No-one can resist supermarket offers. Whether you've only gone in for a can of beans or your entire weekly shop, the temptation of splashing out some cash on whatever bundle the store has put together is a tough one to resist. Even if said bundle happens to be a couple of flatscreen TVs for the price of a luxury family holiday abroad, our love of bargain hunting is one that the big stores rely on.
And it's not just the supermarkets, either. With Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, THQ is clearly counting on the premise that the more it offers, the more attractive a proposition the game becomes. In Warlord's case, what's put forward is a fairly standard gem-puzzler wrapped up in the clothing of an adventure title.
But THQ needn't worry about its appeal to bargain hunters, or anyone else for that matter: Puzzle Quest is a quality package.
At its heart this is a puzzler that focuses on players matching gems of the same colour in a line. Getting three in a row is the main aim, though there are bonuses tied to other achievements – clearing different types of gems brings its own rewards, with gold coins equating to money, purple stars to XP (or 'experience' to the uninitiated) and skulls to perform attacks on your rival. Yes, Puzzle Quest is a turn-based puzzler, so this isn't a case of simply clearing the board.
Rather, each battle is tied into Puzzle Quest's plot, which takes on the form of a young apprentice learning the ropes from a faithful old master. The latter regularly sends you off on quests to either hunt down enemies or investigate a particular area, with each one naturally resulting in a trade-off on the puzzle board. The aim of each contest is to ground the opposition's health score down to zero – each set of three helps achieve that end.
But stringing together combinations – where the removal of one set sees others fall into place, setting off a chain reaction – really does the damage. Find a set of four and you're handed another chance to score an attack against your rival's score. Topping things off, however, is the addition of spells, which can wreak all kinds of havoc on the board.
At the very beginning, players are asked to pick from a score of eight different characters – male and female versions of Druids, Knights, Warriors and Wizards. Each type of character comes complete with its own assortment of spells, which can be used in battle when enough 'mana' has been earned – Puzzle Quest's currency, netted through successfully matching up chains of three.
Spells become all the more important as the quality of opponents ramps up, with battles beyond the first few green encounters sometimes concluding in a matter of seconds if you're not equipped with the right set of charms. Such spells are simply a way of aiding your headway mid-battle, clearing the board of all gems of a certain colour, for instance, or switching them for skulls. Though not especially magic in any sense, it does provide a neat way for the developer to hand out power-ups within the context of the game's narrative.
In fact, such tactics are the perfect example of how the game's quest elements – character, plot and wizardry – fuse perfectly with what is at the title's core: a smart gem puzzler. Though it sounds like a complicated companionship on the page, Puzzle Quest is the product of a skilled developer successfully combining the appeal of Tolkien-esque storytelling with the grounding of a solid, and most importantly, engaging game. There's no hint of tagging on here – this is a seamlessly smooth and complete package.
It's a truly rare occasion when a developer manages to produce a title that treads the fine line between knowing its format's limits and pandering to over simplicity. If all buy-one-get-one-frees were of this kind of quality, we'd spend our lives at the checkout.
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