Tuesday, May 12, 2009
After trying the Puzzle Kingdoms demo, I quickly realized that Infinite Interactive was back to form, and bought the game. Puzzle Kingdoms is as good, and in some aspects even better than Puzzle Quest, which is very welcome after the disappointing Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.
Just like in Puzzle Quest, in Puzzle Kingdoms you explore the same low graphics fantasy world, follow a quest told with text bubbles on static images, and fight enemies using a Bejeweled clone. After the hexagonal game board of Galactrix, which didn't work very well, we are back to a square board, but with somewhat different rules than Puzzle Quest. This time you slide in new pieces from the sides, moving a complete row or column. If that movement creates one or more clusters of 3 or more pieces, all those tiles are destroyed, and new ones fall in from the top. That works much better than the "falling in from all 6 sides" Galactrix variant, because you can again plan interesting combos.
In Puzzle Kingdoms you don't just fight with one hero and his spells, you bring up to 4 troops into combat. Each troop has an attack value, a number of hitpoints, and a number of symbols of one color, corresponding to one color on the board. Destroying 3 tiles of that color fills up one of those symbols, destroying more tiles at once fills up more symbols. Besides hurting enemy troops directly by matching 3 combat tiles, you can now also attack them as soon as all the symbols of at least one of your troops are filled up. Or you can wait until several troops are ready for combat that way, for added effect. But if you wait too long, you risk getting your troop killed before it can attack. Once you eliminate all enemy troops, you win. This system is very rich, and offers tons of tactical options. Do you match tiles that enable your troops to attack? Or do you match other tiles to gain spell points for your hero? What colors are the enemy troops using, and should you grab his tiles so he can't attack? Lots of fun!
The point at which Puzzle Kingdoms actually surpasses Puzzle Quest is that it isn't just following the story in a linear way. If you lose troops in your fights, you need to buy them back with the gold you received for the win. But if you play well and have gold left over, you can use it after conquering a kingdom to play some related mini-games to get new heroes, items, troops, and spells. And then you can combine all this into a freely configurable army. Your first kingdom gives you 60 points to distribute, the next kingdoms have 100 points, and so you can afford better and better armies. But every hero, every spell, every item, every troop has a point value, and you need to consider how to combine all these to maximum effect for the points you have available. That gives an incredible strategy depth and variety. For example you might find a spell that turns other tiles into green tiles, and combine that with troops that have green symbols, use a hero who has a bonus on destruction of green tiles, and equip him with an item that has a chance of extra turns whenever green tiles are destroyed.
The only disadvantage to Puzzle Kingdoms is that these possibilities aren't all that well explained. I conquered 5 kingdoms with my first army before I noticed that I could have switched kingdoms after the second conquest and used 100 points instead of 60 to build my army. And it was also only then that I noticed that you can fight again in already conquered kingdoms to level up your new heroes and gather more gold. As this is much different from Puzzle Quest, a bit better explanation would have been welcome.
All in all Puzzle Kingdoms is a great game, and certainly worth the 20 bucks it costs on Steam. Besides the PC version, there are versions for the Nintendo DS and Wii for the same price. Recommended.