The Quest for Puzzles
Steve Fawkner’s Infinite Interactive studio is so prolific it’s pretty much competing with itself. Less than three months after the puzzle-RPG hybrid Puzzle Quest: Galactrix hit shelves, the very similar Puzzle Kingdoms sees the light of day. The (slightly) newer game features some enjoyable changes to both the puzzle and RPG elements from Puzzle Quest, but those who got their fill on Galactrix’s many hours of gameplay won’t find much of a reason to dive in. Puzzle Kingdoms is a good game that should have been scheduled to come out a little bit later, so as not to crowd the market (and players’ schedules).
Kingdoms discards Galactrix’s six-sided puzzle pieces, opting instead for the grid of squares found in Galactrix’s predecessor, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. To move the pieces, instead of switching two tiles, you shift entire columns (vertically) and rows (horizontally). The goal is still to match three like-colored pieces, but the matching tiles only need to touch, not necessarily form a straight line. Around the edges of the game board, there are icons indicating which types of pieces will replace the blocks that shift off the board or disappear in matched sets.
As was the case in Galactrix, you’ll find battles by navigating a map screen, and once again, these fights are turn-based. However, the battles are no longer one-on-one. This time around, you’ll be assembling a party of soldiers to take on your enemies.
Each soldier has a given amount of life, a given attack strength, and a formula for charging his attack. For example, the Axeman can withstand four damage, deals four damage when he attacks, and needs you to match three sets of three white tiles before he can attack. You’ll also take a “hero” into each battle; these are powerful soldiers with magical abilities, whose attacks charge slightly whenever you match colors none of your soldiers need.
These changes make for a little different strategy than what players tend to use in Puzzle Quest. It’s important to assemble a party with a lot of variety, because that way, a greater amount of differing colors of tiles will charge your soldiers. It also helps to keep an eye on the colors your opponent needs, so that you can match them first or prevent matches from being available when his turn comes. Also, by waiting until multiple soldiers are charged, you earn bonus damage on your attacks. However, if you charge a character and don’t attack right away, he could be dead before he gets to use his charge.
Winning battles earns you gold (which you can use to replace soldiers you’ve lost) and also levels up your heroes. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock spells, new types of soldiers to buy, and lots of new ground to cover. As you conquer new kingdoms, you’re limited in the heroes and troops you can use at a given time, adding another layer of strategy.
You’ll do much of the unlocking through mini-games, which cost gold to play and, like those in Galactrix, are simple variations on the main puzzle. You’ll move and match blocks the same way, but instead of fighting an opponent, you’ll try to clear a certain number of pieces under a time constraint, or within a given number of moves. For this reason, Kingdoms shares Galactrix’s only major flaw: it’s very repetitive – because you’re basically solving the same puzzle over and over again. Both games are best played in short bursts, especially when it comes to the later, harder, more time-consuming stages.
The story isn’t the point here, really; it’s just an excuse for what’s essentially a long game of Risk. That’s good, because unless you read carefully, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Basically, there’s a famine in the land of Etheria, and you need to save the place from evil forces by conquering everything in it. As the plot unravels, you learn more about these forces and feel a little more convinced you’re on the side of good. There’s some voiceover work, but for the most part, it’s Infinite Interactive’s trademark awful dialogue, written in speech bubbles as usual, that advances the tale.
You can skip the story altogether by playing quick matches. These include bouts with A.I. opponents, mini-games, and matches against other humans. The “hotseat” multiplayer is local only, requiring that you pass the DS, so it’s not a very practical way to play.
From a technical and presentation standpoint, the game is solid, but not spectacular. The graphics are simple, conveying little more than basic images of the map screen landscape and the pieces of the puzzle, with no noticeable glitches or flaws. The music evokes that of Braid, and the sound effects do their thing without becoming distracting. The stylus works well for shifting sets of blocks around and makes navigating the game’s big map a breeze. In other words, you won’t notice much about this game aside from the gameplay, and that’s just fine.
Puzzle Kingdoms is a decent follow-up to Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, and so was Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, so it’s unusual that the games’ different publishers chose to release the two so closely to each other. Those truly addicted to this kind of gameplay should pick the game up, as should those who preferred Challenge of the Warlords’ ancient fantasy setting to the futuristic sci-fi universe of Galactrix.
More casual fans should wait until they get sick of Galactrix before shelling out dough for Kingdoms, though. Then again, at this rate, there’ll probably be another Infinite Interactive puzzle-RPG title to choose from by that point.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
There’s nothing impressive, but nothing embarrassingly bad, either. 4.5 Control
The stylus works well, both for arranging puzzle pieces and for navigating the map screen. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music evokes that of Braid, and the sound effects do what they need to. 3.3
This game is very similar to the Puzzle Quest titles, and like them it can become boring if played for too long. For those willing to play in short bursts, though, Puzzle Kingdoms provides hours of fun.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.