Puzzle Quest 2 is the long-awaited follow-up to Infinite Interactive's surprise-hit puzzle/RPG, marking a welcome return to the classically addictive gameplay of the original. It's a much darker, less epic-feeling game than its predecessor, but the puzzles are as addictive as ever.
- Back-to-basics mentality
- Gameplay changes are mostly for better
- Puzzles as addictive as ever
- Stylus interface kind of awful
- New aesthetic style is ugly/jarring
- No Internet multiplayer
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was a genius combination of traditional role-playing elements and the simple yet compelling “match three” gameplay of Bejeweled. Characters had stats to level, equipment to plunder and spells to learn, but everything ultimately came down to your skill at manipulating colored gems on a board. The game’s RPG and puzzle aspects fed into each other in ingenious ways, and you probably know how that turned out: Puzzle Quest was addictive as hell.
So Puzzle Quest 2? Yeah, it’s the real thing: no hexagons here. Despite a fairly extensive list of tweaks and changes, the basics remain intact, so anyone who’s played the original game should feel at home. In-game tutorials will cover everyone else, which is fortunate given that the joke of an instruction manual is all of three pages.
Lean and Mean
One of the most striking aspects of Puzzle Quest 2 is how pared down it feels. Many of the first game’s superfluous (and even non-superfluous) gameplay systems have been scrapped: Say goodbye to mounts, monster captures, rune forging, town sieges, spell stealing, gold and XP jewels... even travel is mostly a thing of the past. Whereas the first game was an epic quest with a poor story, Puzzle Quest 2 is more of a local dungeon hack without any story. That’s more or less okay, because let’s be honest: You’re here for the gameplay.
At least equipment made the cut, though it works differently now. Matching new Action Gems gives you Action Points, which can then be used to swing your weapon or quaff a potion. Action Points are essentially a sixth type of Mana, the only one that’s immune to Mana Drains. Very interesting, no? Weapons also have the side effect of deemphasizing Damage Skulls, which don’t feel quite as important anymore. I like this system a lot, as it lends combat yet another layer of strategy and depth.
Another smart change comes in the mini-games, which are largely enjoyable this time out. Gone are the arduous rune-crafting and monster-capture puzzles, and good riddance. In their place are simpler, faster diversions. I especially like the nicely balanced treasure-looting game, which is like a slot machine in that it delivers a great payout every so often.
Details, details. The most important thing to know is that Puzzle Quest 2’s as addictive as ever. I had trouble putting it down even in the face of real-life obligations, always wanting to explore one more room or loot one more chest. Yep, they did it again.
Bad Plastic Surgery
For all its strengths, Puzzle Quest 2 stumbles badly on a few fronts. The game’s greatest puzzle may be why the stylus-driven interface sucks so much. The cumbersome inventory makes it hard to manage items, finicky left-aligned scrollbars frequently cause my right hand to block my view, a big old delete button is situated right in the middle of the button you click to load your save, the d-pad doesn’t help scroll lists... Basically, the UI is a huge mess.
Poor aesthetics are the game’s other major sin. The art style’s gone from slightly generic but attractive anime-style to ugly barbarian fantasy. The music’s followed suit, with a scratchy, low-key collection of downers replacing the first game’s rousing score. Even puzzle animations are jerky and slow.
Combined with the small-scale, story-free nature of the adventure, Puzzle Quest 2 feels like a very different game, and not necessarily for the better. Think of it as being Warrior Within to the first game’s Sands of Time. Your tastes may vary.
Still a Gem
Its poorer elements aside, Puzzle Quest 2 is more or less the sequel fans have hoped for. It’s certainly a better stab at a follow-up than Galactrix was, and I appreciate the efforts it makes to improve on the first game’s gameplay. It doesn’t nail absolutely everything, but you won’t care too much when you’re lost in the throes of yet another nail-biting puzzle battle.