If you know me at all, you know that I have no shortage of video game options. I have an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. I have a computer with wireless mouse and keyboard hooked up in the living room so I can play Torchlight on the big screen. I have an old PS2 laying around just in case of Psychonauts-related emergencies, and a NES knockoff that plays the original cartridges (which, admittedly, I turn to primarily when drinking). But with all these to choose from, nothing gets played more than my trusty Nintendo DS.
Maybe it’s because I can play it on the bus, or in the bathroom (it happens, OK? Deal with it). And although I still love an epic journey of action and adventure (Darksiders, yay), I have shit to do, you know? What I find myself wanting from video games more and more as I get older is something I can play in bits and pieces. Nintendo’s little touchscreen handheld is the perfect delivery system for this kind of experience.
And Puzzle Quest is the perfect package.
I’ve always been a sucker for puzzle games in general. There’s something about them that stimulates the part of the brain usually reserved for methamphetamines. If you’ve ever played Tetris or Bejeweled then you know the drill – with your logical functions mesmerized by the geometric patterns on the screen, the simple gameplay slowly builds to a frenzy, and when it finally overwhelms you you’re compelled to hit the restart button one more time. Who among us hasn’t played such a game until the point of exhaustion, only to discover that sleep is no longer an option, since closing your eyes only reveals more falling bricks, or those cursed, multicolored gems?
The Puzzle Quest series takes the basic concept of Bejeweled — you swap gems around on the board to line up 3 or more and make them disappear — and makes you play it competitively against orcs and demons for treasure and experience points. You go up levels! And cast magic spells! It essentially takes the most addictive game structure ever, the RPG (which teases you with character advancement) and melds it with the super-addictive puzzle gameplay. The result is VIDEO GAME HEROIN.
What I’m trying to say here is that I might have a Puzzle Quest problem.
The original Puzzle Quest pioneered this genre mashup, and the recent Puzzle Quest II perfects it. In addition to skull gems that deal direct damage and color gems that give you mana to cast spells, they’ve added action gems, which you save up until you have enough to make a weapon attack. Also, rather than wandering around on a big, impersonal area map, you walk through the streets of a city, getting quests and battles from friendly townsfolk. Granted, these quests always take the form of playing Bejeweled against monsters, since the story portion is just an excuse to get to the meat of the game. And if you can’t be bothered with even a small amount of obligatory plot, you can always just skip over Quest Mode and jump right into jewel matching fun. The experience and treasure you gain here will carry over to your character when you decide to get back to the quest, so you won’t feel like you’ve been wasting our time.
I’m working my way through PQII right now, and as much as I love it, I have to admit that my favorite in the series is the black sheep of the family, Puzzle Quest Galactrix. It got a lot of flak from critics when it came out, but I played the absolute hell out of that game. It trades the fantasy setting for deep space, but the primary difference is that it uses a hexagonal grid instead of a square one. This took a bit of getting used to, but when I realized that you could control the direction that new bricks fell based on which way you swapped a gem, it BLEW MY FREAKING MIND. Also, you mine for ores and build new spaceships! I kept playing for at least a month after finishing the story, just trying to build that crazy evil Death Star thing. Awesome!
I find that its touchscreen makes the DS my favorite way to play Puzzle Quest, but if you’re not blessed with such a device, never fear. Various versions out for the Wii, PS2 and PSP, and downloadable directly to your iPhone, Xbox 360, or Playstation 3. There are also PC versions — as a matter of fact, you can snatch up a free demo right this minute. And I guess there’s a kind of half-ass Facebook Puzzle Quest as well? Yow. Don’t do it it you have anything else to get done today, though.
You’ve been warned.