The Lighter Side of Things: Puzzle Quest

It's often the case when I finish a game that involves a significant time commitment per gaming session (such as most RPGs or Twilight Princess) that I need to take a break. More specifically, I need to play a game that's a little lighter and fluffier for a few days. So, upon my completion of Hotel Dusk, I found myself re-embracing Puzzle Quest on the DS, which had been gathering dust on my shelf for many months. Actually, I just beat it as a druid for the first time yesterday too. I hadn't realized I was so close to the end. But I'm still interested in playing it, so I started up a new game as a Wizard. After just the first few quests, I can already tell a huge difference in the play styles of these two characters. But that's not the purpose of this post.

My reacquaintance with Puzzle Quest coincided with a blog post by Corvus on Man Bytes Blog, where he addresses some reader responses to narrative consistency. One reader wrote about the distractions he found with the integration of Assassin's Creed's user interface into its game world, which is a rare treat. I haven't played it, but I think it makes a lot of sense to try to integrate as many game elements as possibly into the environment and logic of the game world itself.

That being said, how is Puzzle Quest similar to Assassin's Creed in this regard? Some things are more abstract, such as your health and mana bars. But many of the game play elements take place within the game world. For example, if you want to level up a creature, you first have to buy a stable at your headquarters and then defeat your creature in puzzle combat. Similarly, many of the upgrading sidequests are maintained at your headquarters after you have purchased the requisite building. These missions, such as learning new spells or forging new weapons, are given a logical place within this world. The one aspect of Puzzle Quest, which is in fact essential to its very being, is the puzzeling mechanic itself. Is this an abstract representation of a fight to the death? Or are your character and an enemy monster literally sitting on either side of a puzzle, moving gems around and casting spells?

My initial opinion is that this is very much an abstract battle system. Your matching of three skulls is a signifier of swinging your sword and lightly scratching your enemy. I don't think they're literally playing a puzzle game against each other. But as a gamer, this doesn't bother me because I'm accustomed to using such abstract systems in games. Bejeweld-style puzzles are part of this world, and are literally integrated into it everywhere. To defeat a giant rat: puzzle combat. To forge an item: puzzle combat. To defeat the God of Death himself: puzzle combat. The very nature of the people and places within the Puzzle Quest universe is fighting through puzzles.

Later in his post, Corvus says, "It isn't the standard grammar of videogame design that's holding us back, it's the type of stories we're trying to tell. It's our juvenile focus on violence and hyper-sexualized characters that's the problem." And in that regard, Puzzle Quest seems antiquated. The plot that ties these puzzles together, while devoid of sexuality, is the most stereotypical fantasy story you can imagine. The characters have no personality, and are purely fantasy cliches.

But in this world, the puzzle game play is what keeps you coming back for more. It's very addicting. I plan on raising my wizard a few more levels before delving into a more time-intensive game. Sometimes it's nice to revisit a simpler world, where warriors and monsters solve their differences through Bejeweled, like gentlemen.

No comments: