When Infinite Interactive released Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords in 2007, they weren't trying to invent a new genre, rather they reinvented the puzzle genre as a whole. By combining RPG elements with classic match-three puzzle gameplay popularized by PopCap's Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest has since become a fan favourite for its genre-bending qualities and addictive nature. Three years after its release -- and the release of other favourites like Puzzle Kingdom and Puzzle Quest's sci-fi counterpart Puzzle Quest: Galactrix -- comes Puzzle Quest 2, an equally addictive return to order.
The core mechanics are the same with players battling enemies (or other players in the game’s multiplayer) using classic match-three gameplay. Coloured gems are matched to earn mana points that can be used to launch magic or special attacks. Skulls that appear on the board are your primary form of offense; match three and you’ll deal damage to your opponent. The fist-shaped action gems are used to launch attacks with a held weapon or to defend with a shield. Match four or more of any of these said gems and earn more mana, deal more damage, earn action points and earn another turn. So, do you match action gems to deal massive damage further down the road or match coloured gems to quickly launch a magic attack? The choice is yours.
While this might sound monotonous and a bit one-trick, there are some significant changes from the original Puzzle Quest. First off, there is no longer an overworld map to move around on. This time, the game world comes in the form of a centralized location and the outlying town that surrounds it. So instead of moving your character from country to country and partaking in battles with normal foes and bosses, you'll literally move a character from room to room, have a mini-map to give you the layout, and quest markers to set you in the right direction.
Gameplay-wise, in the latter half of the game you'll find that your weapons and spells can do much more damage to your opponent than your skull match-ups ever will, which changes the way you play the game in comparison to how you start out. If that weren't enough, mini-games become a large role in Puzzle Quest 2. Whether unlocking a door, bashing a door in or looting a room, there's a mini-game equivalent to partake in. These mini-games have the similar rule sets as in the core game, but they typically have different end goals -- each adding a certain amount of challenge.
In addition to single player mode there is also a multiplayer aspect to the game via Xbox Live. The online mode works well, has little lag and matches you up with similar-leveled people well enough. However solid the multiplayer is, it's certainly not the highlight and isn't a particularly good reason to get the game. For Puzzle Quest 2, single player mode is certainly the better of the two.
Visually the game looks pretty solid on XBLA with hi-def 2D art representing your character, NPCs and surrounding enemies. Character and enemy portraits are equally interesting and add a nice touch to the game. The surrounding map, on the other hand, is drab and pretty generic for a medieval setting. With that in mind, the music suffers the same generic blandness and, while not exactly off-putting, does not provide the best experience when fighting enemies -- but on second thought, how many puzzle games actually do provide inviting and immersive tunes?
Puzzle Quest 2 isn’t going to blow minds with its inventiveness seeing as how Infinite Interactive released a similar game three years ago, but it still manages to set itself apart from other puzzle games. It's a tremendously addictive title that, despite its seemingly mundane nature, never really gets dull -- with or without gameplay changes. Leveling up, gem-matching and KOing enemies with magical powers and long swords have accounted for many sleepless nights matching skulls, fists and fighting “just one more” enemy before putting the controller down for the night. You can never underestimate the compulsion to find and match gems.