Being a so-called “casual game” must be a tough gig: the Red Bull-slammin’, Call of Duty-playin’ hardcore gamers think of you as little more than an interactive screen saver, and the soccer moms and office drones that are your target audience couldn’t circle strafe their way out of a paper bag.
Thanks to its combination of addictive, match-three gameplay and RPG-lite elements, Infinite Interactive’s Puzzle Quest 2 cuts clean across all the usual demographics for a game that just about everyone can enjoy. Whether your idea of gaming nirvana is a forty-man raid or a 4-minute Bejeweled session, Puzzle Quest 2 will sink its simple hooks deep into your gaming hours.
The original Puzzle Quest cleverly welded the Bejeweled match-three mechanic to elements ripped from the RPG playbook, including character progression, experience points, dungeons and monsters. It was a hit with just about every style of gamer; a pick-up-and-play puzzler with a little more strategy and gamer cred than the Pop Cap model. Last year’s Puzzle Quest: Glalactrix unwisely dumped most of the ingredients that made the formula a success.
Puzzle Quest 2 takes the winning template of the original game and ups the RPG ante quite a bit. This time around, the map-view presentation has been replaced by a zoomed-in, isometric view and instead of moving from town to town, you’re moving through dungeons and catacombs; and in true RPG fashion, chatting up characters, buying and selling loot and magic items, and progressing one of four character classes up a familiar-feeling skill tree.
Start an enemy encounter, and the game switches to match-three puzzle mode, where you can equip weapons and cast spells, use armor and healing potions, or inflict damage thanks to the action points you earn by matching the jewels and skulls and other tiles. While, at heart, the game is still a pretty simple little puzzler, there is a lot of variety of gameplay, including mini-games that you need to complete to open treasure chests and dungeon doors. Like the original, the DS version of Puzzle Quest 2 includes a head-to-head multiplayer mode, while the XBLA version adds a new Tournament match.
Visually—on the DS at least—the game is colorful but the hand-painted look of the characters and environments are not particularly detailed or sharp. On the other hand, if eye-candy is important to you, check out the HD version on XBLA (or wait for the inevitable iPad version). The DS touch screen and stylus are well-suited to the gameplay, making Puzzle Quest 2 a perfect portable title. The musical soundtrack alternates between epic and appropriately creepy and is well-done.
Even hardcore gamers admitted a weakness for the original Puzzle Quest. Thanks to the addition of even more RPG elements and a greater depth of strategic options, no one’s gonna lose any gaming cred by firing up Puzzle Quest 2. Simple, addictive and fun, with just enough complexity to keep things interesting, Puzzle Quest 2 is a “casual game” winner.
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