Review – Puzzle Quest (PSP)

Anticipation : 8
Expectation : 8
Initial Reaction : 6
Overall : 4
Genre : Puzzle

Well, it’s been a while since I did a review. I held off on reviewing this particular title with hopes that the developer would release a patch to fix some of the problems with the game. Unfortunately, they have not. With that in mind, on to the review!

Puzzle Quest was designed by Infinite Interactive and ported to the PSP by Vicious Cycle. It was ultimately published by D3 Publisher, who, incidentally, purchased [pdf] Vicious Cycle on June 20, 2007. Puzzle Quest received the “Best Puzzle Game” award at IGN’s Best of E3 2007 awards for the XBox 360 Live Arcade version.

The game itself is quite fun to play. The player navigates a large world map, detailed with a number of destinations that open up as the story progresses. Each location has a variety of options such as retrieving quests, purchasing items, and listening to rumors in the tavern. Quests lead you on through the story, ultimately aiming to save the land of Etheria from the evil Lord Bane.

You can choose from four player classes, Druid, Warrior, Knight, and Wizard. As the game progresses, you gain levels and invest points into a variety of skills. There are four primary “mastery” skills, earth, air, fire, and water. In addition, you can choose to increase other skills such as cunning, morale, and battle.

The four primary skills determine how much of each mana type your player can collect, as well as various bonuses for collecting it. Battle skill increases the amount of damage you inflict when you match skulls. Cunning increases the effects wild cards have, amount of gold you gain for matching coins, and determines who goes first when battle starts. Finally, morale increases your life points as well as various bonuses for collecting the purple experience stars.

Your character also has a citadel that can be upgraded to gain access to additional spells, skills, and items. As you gain gold, you can build additional portions of your citadel. A dungeon allows you to capture enemies and even ride them as mounts. The mage tower grants you access to learn spells from captured enemies. The stable allows you to train your mount, allowing additional bonuses during battle and increasing the likelyhood of bypassing creatures on the map. Still other features unlock the ability to train your character, forge items, and capture other cities.

When a battle begins, you are shown an 8×8 grid of symbols. The red, blue, green, and yellow gems represent the fire, water, earth, and air mana. The skull icons are used to inflict damage. Matching coins increases the gold you character has, allowing you to purchase items and skills. Purple stars are matched to increase your experience, helping boost you to that next level.

The battle is played in a similar manner to the popular Bejeweled game. The player simply swaps the positions of two adjacent symbols. If the symbols cause a row of three or more symbols to match, the symbols are removed and the appropriate reward is obtained. Additional symbols fall in from above, often causing chain reactions which can result in additional bonuses. If the player matches five or more chains, they receive an experience and gold bonus. Matching four symbols in a row results in a free turn, while matching five results in a free turn and a wild card. Wild cards can be used to match any of the four mana types.

In order to win a battle, you must reduce your opponents hit points to zero. This can be accomplished by matching skulls, or casting spells. Skulls come in two flavors, a normal skull, and a +5 skull. The latter cause explosions, destroying any symbols around the skull and inflicting additional damage on the enemy. Spells are obtained through leveling your character, as well as capturing enemies. Spells come in a variety of forms. Some spells can heal damage inflicted on you, some inflict damage on the enemy. Other spells can change symbols on the board from one type to another, while other spells can steal or reduce your enemies mana.

As the game progresses, you can capture enemies and gain additional spells from them. Some captured enemies can also be used as mounts, allowing the player to move quicker through the map, gaining a chance to avoid some encounters. Capturing creatures occurs after you have battled a given creature at least three times. To capture a creature, the 8×8 game board is displayed and you are tasked with clearing the board of all symbols. In this version of the game, no symbols will fall from above. But don’t be fooled, some of these puzzles are quite difficult.

Once a creature has been captured, you can learn spells from it. Again, the battle board is shown and you match symbols to gain access to the spells. In this form of the game, you must match a specific number of symbols to progress. If you reach a point where no more matches are available, you fail to learn the spell and must start over.

Similarly, you can forge new items using runes found throughout the land of Etheria. This time, you must match the forge symbols on the board. As with learning spells, when no more matches are available, you fail to forge the item and must start over.

Overall the game is quite fun to play and can keep you occupied for hours on end. Additionally, you can choose to battle specific creatures through the battle menu, or play wirelessly against friends. Sorry, only ad-hoc multiplayer is available.

There are, however, a number of issues with the game. During the game, you have the opportunity to gain companions. Each companion adds bonuses and skills to your player that are used while battling. Unfortunately, a bug in the PSP version of the game prevents your player from actually gaining these bonuses. You still gain the companions, they just have no effect whatsoever on the gameplay.

Worse are the freeze bugs. I’m not entirely sure what causes these, but they have been reported by a number of users. There are a few different versions of this bug, all causing the game to freeze and the PSP to turn off. Some are avoidable while other can result in needing to completely restart the game. For me, I first encountered this while using the Druid character. After playing for some time, I noticed that browsing through my spellbook caused the game to freeze and lock up. I found no workaround for this and, as a result, was not able to use any spells above level 10. I have also seen the game freeze during various battles, though this seems to be a random event. I have seen additional reports of repeated battle lockups, causing the player to have to restart the game.

According to the Gamespy review, there is yet another bug that prevents settings from being saved. Personally, I haven’t noticed this particular problem, but I haven’t really played with the settings much.

I have emailed both Infinite Interactive and D3 regarding these bugs. Infinite Interactive directed me to D3 explaining that they did not write the PSP code and had no control over it. D3 responded with what seemed to be a canned response that they would “look into the issue.” That was six months ago. I have since emailed them twice. I have received no response from them, thus far.

This lack of customer service has me quite upset. What could have been an excellent game has been marred by bugs. The lack of response on the part of D3 has forced me to reconsider buying any additional D3 and Vicious Cycle titles. I highly recommend you check all reviews and forums regarding any D3 titles before you decide to purchase. While Puzzle Quest is still a great game and I do enjoy playing it, it is quite frustrating to reach a point where the game becomes unplayable due to a bug. I’m still holding out hope that D3 will address these bugs, but as time goes on, it seems less and less likely.

2 thoughts on “Review – Puzzle Quest (PSP)”

  1. Well written review. I love the game but my progress is completely halted by a consistent freeze while battling one enemy in particular.

    I too have written to the publisher about the bug. Though they didn’t actually code the game, I believe it is ultimately their responsibility to insure their product functions properly. I don’t think it is unreasonable to avoid their future products, and to discourage people from buying the PSP version of this game.

  2. Thanks. I’ve read about similar game-stopping problems on the Infinite Interactive forums. It’s unfortunate that such a great game was marred by these problems. It appears that most of these problems are dangling pointer issues, based on the behavior of the game when it happens.

    Janeen, from Infinite Interactive, answered the emails I sent them. Unfortunately, it seems that the resolution to this is out of their hands and rests solely on the shoulders of D3.

    One thing I didn’t try was to contact Vicious Cycle, and I may give that a shot next. I doubt anything will come of it, unfortunately.

    I look forward to Infinite’s next game, Galactrix, but I think I’ll wait a bit before I decide to buy it.. The PC version is almost a no brainer, but I have a PSP specifically because I just don’t have the time to sit down and play games.. *sigh* Growing up sucks…

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