The trick to Puzzle Quest is that all of the objects do something different. Early on the most important piece to connect are the skulls, because connecting three skulls together takes health away from your opponent. You can also connect the coins to earn more money or match the purple experience point pieces, both of which you keep after the match is won or lost.
Perhaps the most important items on the board are the mana pieces, four colored pieces that can be used to cast spells against your opponent. The idea is to collect a lot of these mana pieces so that you can unleash the powerful spells you've earned. What is really cool about Puzzle Quest is how many unique magic spells there are, all of which you have to learn how to use to your advantage. For example, some spells will take one hit point off of your enemy for every red piece that is on the board, other's will turn blue mana pieces into green pieces, another spell will restore your health, while some other spell may poison your enemy and let you take several turns in a row. Learning to use these spells can mean the difference between winning and losing a match, and they really add a lot to the strategies you use.
Of course, it's not just you using the magic spells. Just about every enemy you go up against will have their own special magic spells, so it's important that you not only match the best pieces but you also make sure your opponent isn't able to connect the colors he needs in order to deal you a mighty death blow. What's cool is that you can capture all of the enemies you go up against and then play a special mini-game to learn their magic. So not only are you able to earn new spells from just leveling up your character, but you can learn all of the enemy's magic just by capturing them and playing a short (but sometimes difficult) mini-game.
The problem with a written review like this is that it's very difficult to convey just how exciting and original the battles are in Puzzle Quest. The brilliance of the game is that you can learn how to play in only a matter of minutes; it's actually an extremely easy game to learn. But just because it's easy to learn that doesn't mean that it's easy to master. The more you play the game the more you'll realize that there's a lot of strategy at play, it's all about balancing your spells and making sure you don't leave a good turn open for the bad guy. It's all about matching four or five pieces together so that you can earn an extra turn and mana multipliers. It's all about making sure you don't leave yourself open for a devastating barrage of magic attacks. There's a lot of depth to this game, a lot more than most people will initially give it credit for at first.
Puzzle Quest comes with dozens of different missions, including optional side-quests and a fully realized story full of bosses, plot twists, boss battles and cool helper characters. At their core, most missions are nothing more than going to some cave or town, battling the monsters, collecting a special item, and then taking it back to where you first got your quest. With most role-playing games this one-sided mission structure would get old after only a few quests, but not in Puzzle Quest. Because the battles are so much fun (and so different from one to another) you'll look forward to every fetch quest, regardless of how many times you've been to that one cave or mountain top. Since you never really control your character's walking (instead you point to the place you want to go and he walks there by himself) you don't have to worry too much about spending all of your time just wandering around looking for enemies to fight and loot to pick up. Puzzle Quest cuts out all of the things you don't like about role-playing games and adds some of the most exciting puzzle-based battles you'll ever see.
Another thing that separates Puzzle Quest from the Final Fantasy's of the world is that the battles only take a few minutes to complete. No matter what skill you are, most battles only last three to five minutes, which is extremely short when compared to most of the epic RPGs released these days. These short battles work out perfectly when you only have a few minutes to play the game and want to make some progress. No matter if you win or lose, the way the game is set up you'll end up making progress no matter what. That's the secret to this game's success, whenever you play this game you always feel like you're making progress ... you never once feel like you're just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. The gaming landscape would be a better place if more games took this idea and implemented it.
Like all role-playing games, Puzzle Quest is all about you leveling up your character, improving your stats, buying new weapons/armor and developing your character into a massive killing machine. Each of the four character types (be it a druid, knight, warrior or wizard) can go all the way up to level 50, which gives them access to the best spells, weapons, etc. Best of all, the four character types play completely differently; depending on who you pick you'll get different spells, armor, weapons, and other items. Unlike a lot of RPGs, Puzzle Quest has a lot of replay value.
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