Three hours. That’s how long it took me to remember I was playing a match-three game, such is the extent to which Puzzle Quest 2 disguises its true intentions underneath layers of wholesome role-playing conventions and tactical gem-matching.
Whereas the original seemed content to merely sprinkl role-playing elements around the core match-three puzzle play, this sequel takes itself a lot more seriously and, as a result, plays more like a complete game.
It’s just a shame that some technical issues and missing features prevent it from truly levelling up.
Creating a hero in one of four classes - Assassin, Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Templar - your initial quest takes you to a town ravaged by goblins before plunging into the icy ruins of a sinister tower in search of an awakened evil.
From the word 'go' it’s obvious that a lot has changed since the groundbreaking Puzzle Quest – the viewpoint being the most obvious, having switched from a simple map screen to a more attractive isometric view.
You don’t directly control your character. Instead, you tap on a place of interest like a monster or character and your hero saunters over to it. There are quest-givers with exclamation marks above their heads, shopkeepers selling weapons and armour, treasure chests with loot, and tons of monsters.
As with the original, fights are resolved not by smacks in the chops but by sitting down to a nice, quiet round of match-three gem swapping. Matching up three skulls inflicts damage to your opponent’s health, while matching coloured gems adds to your mana supply, which in turn allows you to cast a variety of vicious spells.
Also of note are gauntlet gems that can be used to activate an equipped weapon. Clear these from the board and you can hack, slash, or swipe your enemy in true turn-based role-playing style.
The battles feel less random, with fewer occasions where 80 billion skulls drop at once after the computer makes a move. It can still happen, but it's more likely to make you think than it is to make you spit at the screen.
Brilliantly, it’s not just fights that are resolved through matching three items, but also looting chests, breaking down doors, searching rooms, and disabling traps. Each comes with special rules and a grid filled with unique icons. It mixes things up a little from the norm and makes the game more engaging.
I work alone
Puzzle Quest 2 lacks any form of multiplayer. For a turn-based, Game Center integrated title such as this, it’s a big disappointment to not at least have a standalone mode for playing against friends.
There are alternative modes of play, though, including a tough Endurance mode that has you squaring off against an endless line of enemies. You can also play any of the mini-games you've unlocked, as well as the Quick Battle and Tournament options.
Unfortunately, there are technical quirks that mar the experience somewhat. The game froze during battle a number of times on iPad, requiring either a restart or a full quit to the main menu. It isn’t too bothersome when it happens during an early fight, but when it occurs during a tense face-off against some of the bigger beasts it can be exasperating.
Despite these faults, Puzzle Quest 2's blend of two disparate genres is one of the most unique experiences available on iOS devices. Whereas the original felt like an interesting experiment, the sequel feels like a proper game.