Puzzle Quest's story, which is further titled Challenge of the Warlords, finds me starring as a knight (or wizard, or some other fantasy archetype) in the service of a kingdom that's being invaded by the undead. Like any good questy hero, it's my job to stop the insidious evil before it ruins our peaceful and -- as it looks on the Nintendo DS -- bland-colored fantasy kingdom.
Instead of fighting monsters with the swords and elven arrows that befit the game's setting, I'm fighting monsters by playing a game of Bejeweled. Going head-to-head with a dragon or zombie, I need to play a simple puzzle game in which we take turns flip-flopping colored gems that are laid out in a grid. During each turn, two adjacent gems can be swapped on the grid. If I get three or more of the same color in a row, they disappear.
Ever since Bilbo riddled with Gollum, fantasy monsters have played games by taking polite turns. But as my Puzzle Quest opponents and I match the game's colored gems, we cause damage to each other by scoring points. There are spells that we fling at each other, too, that are powered up by matching different colored gems. A good wizard can match three or four gems and cast a fiery spell at his opponent during the next turn. An excellent wizard will cast a spell that wins the battle entirely.
Substituting puzzle gaming for what is usually tactical combat makes Puzzle Quest a more accessible fantasy adventure for casual players, and the quick battles eliminate some of the tedium that comes with turn-based battles. Moreover, Puzzle Quest allows its heroes to develop like a role-playing game should. As I win battles and collect odd items, my character progresses through the game's story, enlarging and personalizing it until it feels like a genuine quest in a humdrum fantasy kingdom.
THE GOOD: The Good: The magic spells and enchanted items shape Puzzle Quest into a legitimate role-playing game. The game also gives me the chance to make new magic items (by beating puzzles), train different monsters to ride (by beating puzzles) and develop a city so that I can earn gold (to better beat puzzles). For such a puzzle-centric game, there's a lot to do.
THE BAD: Solving puzzles is more generic than swinging a sword, so every battle in Puzzle Quest has the tendency to feel like a quick time-waster, despite the game's relatively deep system of spells and special items. The graphics could have been taken as rejects from old fantasy videogames, and combined with the game's droning music and overmodulated sound-effects, Puzzle Quest feels much less classy than it plays.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With a little more imagination and care, Puzzle Quest could have delivered a unique role-playing adventure to gamers who hate hacking and slashing their way through magic kingdoms.