Puzzle Luck

I have been playing Puzzle Quest off and on since the week of E3, being the first game I purchased on my rather new iPhone. As a portable game, it worked quite well, as I was able to finish a battle, save, and then exit the game.

At first, the game drew me in for hours at a time, my focus being on constantly bettering my character, expanding the story so as to get more quests (read: not to advance the plot; you’re saving this fantasy world from some ancient evil, gather allies–been there), and finding new spells.

Puzzle Quest's Splash Screen

Puzzle Quest's Splash Screen

Now I have hit a road block. I find picking it up to play somewhat of a chore, to be quite honest. Moving across the map will often find me encountering paltry enemies for whom the options are either fight or not go down that path (something I hear they corrected in the sequel). While this is slightly annoying, it is not what has caused a cessation of it being my go-to game of choice when on the go; no, the game has changed.

The way the stats system works is that once you start pumping more and more points into a magic of the appropriate color, you get a higher and higher chance of receiving a second turn for matching that color. There are a few more ways to receive additional turns that include casting spells that don’t end your turn and matching either four or five gems. All fine and dandy on paper.

It has turned into chaos on my gem-bestrewn battlefield, however. Instead of having my character feel like he has become progressively stronger, I feel he is barely in control at times. It’s not a feeling I particularly enjoy, particularly when paired with battles whose experience point value grants me nothing anymore (having reached the level cap)

But then I stepped back a moment and contemplated what was happening. Having reached the level cap, it seems that I would be like unto a one-person army at this point, but considering I am at a point in the story where I am fighting very powerful undead, the game seems to want to be sure the way the battles are played out is that we are evenly matched, but that our stats are the part that throw in those moments of uncertainty in battle.

It reminds me of the way my collegiate Dungeons and Dragons group would explain hit points to newcomers. Hit points as a system, if you take them purely as health, seem pretty silly. Suddenly because I’m a level twenty fighter I have the ability to withstand more attacks with a sword? No, the way to look at hit points is that they measure your experience with battle. Not every hit that takes away hit points is going to actually connect, but it whittles down your overall battle strength so that the next one could. Perhaps it was a blow that put you off balance, and you have a difficult time recovering from such. I preferred that method of thinking to imagining my veins just pumping more blood, and staunching its own wounds immediately (then again, with magic…).

With that in mind, the way the battle flows seems like it could be satisfactorily explained in Puzzle Quest. There are constantly elements in our environments, which aren’t really pictured, of which we are taking advantage, or which throw us off guard against each other. I have tried with this mindset, and yet I find myself often dealing with battles where strategy really doesn’t matter–or only a few select ones are worth my time really contemplating. On both the enemy and my turns, we will often cascade gems after gems after gems, and it becomes a field where my spells matter. That is, if they aren’t resisted, or if the board doesn’t empty (which seems to have a higher likelihood of happening–though it’s likely just a consequence of more rotations of the the gems on less turns) alongside my mana pool.

In reading reviews, this is often a warning given to players however: don’t get too frustrated with how the battles seem out of control on the side of the enemy, eventually it gets out of control on the side for both. Perhaps my biggest gripe might be how the game of strategies has changed, and it seemed there was little warning. While there is still some strategy inherent in the system based on which spells and equipment you take with you in battle, the board itself seems to be a dubious partner in which to trust.

This then makes me contemplate two things: does the sequel at all address the issue of the endgame’s chaos? Or, am I just trying too hard to find a reason to finish this game to move on to Undercroft?


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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5 Responses to Puzzle Luck

  1. Seth says:

    I’ve loved PQ since the demo dropped all those years ago; I finally picked it up for my comp a little over 2 years ago, and then snuck it onto my girlfriend’s computer for our six month anniversary.

    She actually managed to beat it before I did, and is currently on her way to winning again with a fighter. I myself have definitely bumped into that frustrating navigational situation you describe, but I have to ask- is your mount leveled up? Even pumping a mount to level 11 or so (ridiculously easy with a summat high-leveled character) cuts out a significant percentage of the encounters you have to actually face.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    My mount is level seven or so. I did not realize leveling it allowed me to bypass encounters–have bypassed goblins, but wasn’t sure on the mechanic behind it. Was this a note I missed, I wonder? I don’t recall it telling me that when it introduced them to me.

  3. gospelx says:

    I tried playing Puzzle Quest on the DS a couple of years ago. It was fun for a while and I got pretty far, but then the game started blatantly cheating. I watched gems on screen change color just before the enemy’s turn. The enemy would take advantage of this and slam me with multiple turns or spells in a row. Maybe this was only my experience and not everyone’s game cheats. Still, this was a huge turn off for me. I never finished the game.

  4. Denis Farr says:

    There is actually equipment that will do this (50% that a certain gem will be placed on the board before your turn), though I’m not sure of the mechanics behind it.

  5. gospelx says:

    Maybe I recall something like that in the game. Still, the rate at which that favored the computer versus when anything favored me was frustrating. Not only that, the computer actively knows what new runes will drop down, and I encountered too many long chains based on that foreknowledge. The game was really fun for a while until I decided that level of frustration was not for me.

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