I have something of a love/hate relationship with D3's Puzzle Quest franchise. It was love at first sight when I played the 2007 original, raving about it to friends and naming it my Game of the Year. But as much as I loved that game, I hate what Infinite Interactive did with the concept after that. They milked that concept with one terrible spin-off after another, from Neopets Puzzle Adventure to Puzzle Kingdoms to Puzzle Chronicles to the dreadful Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. Let's face it; Puzzle Quest was one misfire away from being the next great industry joke.
Now here comes Puzzle Quest 2, the proper sequel that attempts to right the ship and correct course. It introduces a brand new visual style, board changes, enemy types, combat rules and more, giving fans more than enough reason to suit up for the adventure. This is the kind of sequel that more than makes up for all the crummy spin-offs, even if it's not nearly as innovative the second time around.
At first glance Puzzle Quest 2 doesn't feel that new or original, you're still going on a puzzle-filled adventure as a character/class of your choice -- including assassins, barbarians, sorcerers and templar in both sexes. Much like the first game, these four classes have unique attributes that will affect the way you progress through the game. From there you're whisked off on your grand adventure.
The most immediate change is the visual style. Instead of traveling over a boring old world map like the first game, Puzzle Quest 2 actually has you on an adventure through different dungeons and castles. While you don't get to control your character directly (instead you point and click your way to victory), this new style gives you a greater sense that you're playing a real adventure game. You have to deal with locked doors, secret passages, treasure boxes and huge boss battles at the end of the road. This brand new perspective has an unexpected consequence, I find myself actually interested in the game's high fantasy narrative.
An even bigger improvement comes from the wide variety of puzzles you get to play while hacking your way through dark and spooky dungeons. From looting treasure chests to opening locked doors to using spells, just about everything has its own puzzle to master. They don't stray far from the Bejeweled-style gameplay found in the original game, but they add to the concept in exciting ways.
Better still; the actual combat has been improved in ways I had never even considered. In Puzzle Quest 2 the boards aren't required to be a set size, so you'll run into puzzles of all sizes. You'll also discover that sometimes a board will have pieces missing, requiring you to work around them (or blow them up). There are enough changes made to the board alone to keep you interested long after you've defeated the final boss.
On top of the changes to the board, the developers have gone back and changed a few fundamental things about how you fight. For the most part the basics have been retained -- you still match three (or more) colored icons that allow you to use magic spells to defeat your opponent. This time around you will also be matching a brand new fist icon, which allows you to use your items in combat. This means that you can pull out a dagger when you don't have a move and knock five or ten points off their life.
Puzzle Quest 2 also introduces another gauge, which lets you increase your attack and defense. This may not sound like much, but it can be the difference between blocking an enemy attack or getting an extra-powerful attack with your secondary weapon. This time around I ended up spending more time dealing with my equipped weapons and armor, which can either be good or bad depending on what you expect out of your Puzzle Quest. The good news is that all of these new additions play nice and don't overcrowd the delicate balance D3 had with the first game. It's worth noting that some items have been removed from the battlefield, such as the money icon from the first game.
Just like everything else in this sequel, you'll discover that Puzzle Quest 2 does not skimp on the magic spells. Perhaps it's because there are so many more components to the battle (what with the secondary items, armor gauge, etc.), but there are a lot more spells to earn and choose from in this installment. It's also impressive how varied the spells are, especially when comparing different hero classes. There are so many great spells for each class that it's often difficult narrowing it down to just a few.
All of these elements add up to a game that feels incredibly refined. The first game was fantastic, but this game really builds on it in every way. Yet, even with these improvements there are a lot of little problems that kept me from falling in love with Puzzle Quest 2. For one thing, the combat feels even more punishing than usual. The game requires you to do a lot of grinding in order to start winning big fights, yet it's easy to accidentally get stuck in areas with only difficult opponents.
Some of the problems may just be inherent to this style of puzzle game, such as the annoying way the computer seems to know what's off screen. Some of these matches come down to luck, which enrages me like no other game. Thankfully you still earn experience points when you lose. That may be out of the developer's hands, but they could have easily done a better job of letting me know I leveled up. I went nearly 10 levels without being aware I was leveling up.
For the most part I was able to look past most (if not all) of these problems. Puzzle Quest 2 didn't grab me the same way the first game did, but that may have more to do with the freshness of the original. Even with the new changes, I feel like I've been here and done this before. Still, it didn't take long before I was playing it obsessively.
This Nintendo DS version does a reasonably good job of keeping up with all of these changes and additions. Much like the first game, I'm not a big fan of the way the puzzles look or control on the DS. The icons are simply too small and I find myself making far too many mistakes along the way. Outside of the puzzles the game looks spectacular, it's just when you transition into a battle or mini-game. If you have the option to play the game on the Xbox Live Arcade, I would opt for that version. Not only does it look and play better, but it costs half the price.
Puzzle Quest 2 is a great game, make no mistake about it. But the spark I had for the original is likely gone forever. It may not be the revolution of the 2007 release, but D3's newest Nintendo DS game is definitely worth playing through. There's more than enough content for you to get your money's worth, even if you are burned out from the first game.