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Published on April 15th, 2010 | by Matt Haberfeld

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Puzzle Kingdoms

Developer: Infinite Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Genre: Puzzle RPG
Platform: DS, PC, Wii
Publisher: Zoo Games
Release Date: 5/9/2009

What is Puzzle Kingdoms?

Puzzle Kingdoms is another Puzzle RPG from the makers of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. There are three puzzle mini-games; one for battle, one for recruiting new units, and one for discovering spells and items. Gameplay consists of you attacking a kingdom in which you have to conquer a series of outposts before attacking your opponent’s final stronghold and taking over the kingdom. Once you own the kingdom you can visit the tavern and the ruins in that kingdom to get new units, spells, and items.

What does this game do well?

The people responsible for the Warlords games have been around for a long time, although not necessary as Infinite Interactive. I still have fond memories of Warlords and Warlords 2. However, I lost interest when they decided to go real time with Warlords 3: Battlecry and their turn based Warlords 3 suffered from a significant lack of innovation. Games like Age of Wonders simply stole the show and pushed them into the background. However, Puzzle Quest was their grand resurgence. Finally they came up with a winning formula that was both a critical and commercial success.

The first sequel was Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. I played the demo and it seemed like a good game in theory but the reviews for the game told the real tale. It was a hot mess and I didn’t even bother to buy it. Without playing it, I already knew that I would hate it. Having a time based puzzle that you are forced to play over and over again just to travel between areas? No thanks. Puzzle Kingdoms is the 3rd game in the series.

Ok, history lesson over. Is this game any good? Well the main puzzle is the combat puzzle. If Puzzle Quest was on your SATs and they had one of those annoying word relationship questions the answer would go something like this: Puzzle Quest is to Bejeweled as Puzzle Kingdoms is to Chuzzle. Instead of matching 3 elements vertically or horizontally, Puzzle Kingdoms allows you to match any 3 elements. So “L” shapes count as matches as well as the traditional vertical and horizontal matches, and it’s much easier to match 4+ elements at the same time because they don’t have to line up correctly, they just have to be touching.

To make a match on the board, you slide a row or column over 1 space. This completely pushes the far piece off the board and destroys it, and adds a new piece on the near side. When you make a match, new pieces still cascade down from the top. Strategically this game is much deeper than Puzzle Quest because it’s easier to make matches and easier for your move to have unintended consequences. For me at least, in Puzzle Quest I could always see what the board would look like if I made a potential move. In Puzzle Kingdoms I frequently make a move that opens up a great counter for the AI that I didn’t see. Either it’s harder or my brain just isn’t hardwired to see the potential outcomes in this game.

In the original Puzzle Quest your character used the matches to cast spells. Now each player also has up to 4 units that they take into battle. The units have to be charged up with the correct colored blocks, and once they are powered up you can use your turn to attack with them instead of make a play on the board. Some units require 5 matches to power up while others only require 2, and their attack power and hit points vary. It’s up to the player to decide whether they want to load up on cheap, easy to charge units with low hit points and damage output, or fewer tougher enemies. You can also choose to use all units of the same type, or use four units that all require a different type of color to charge. Any matches you make that don’t go towards your units ends up as “power” for your hero to cast spells with. There’s a lot to consider when building your army and there are many unique successful strategies that you can employ.

There are two other mini-games. The tavern allows you to recruit units and heroes in a time based puzzle in which you have to make a certain number of matches of each color. I hate the time based puzzles so this one does not resonate with me at all. The ruins allow you to find spells and equipment for your heroes. This is a turn based puzzle in which you have to clear the board in a certain number of moves. I really like this puzzle as it is challenging but not impossible, and the more you think about it the better you’ll perform. You have to pay gold to attempt these puzzles, but if you lose they allow you to try again for free so there’s no risk involved. Technically there’s another mini-game in which you pray at a shrine but it’s just a clone of the turn based puzzle with no move limit so it’s not even possible to lose. I hesitate to even call it a mini-game.

You are limited to a certain number of “points” that you use to build your army and equip your hero. Each unit costs points, as does each item and spell, which prevents you from loading up on all the best (and most expensive) stuff at the same time. As you conquer kingdoms, you can build an army in that kingdom and different kingdoms have different point limits. Obviously you want to transition to a kingdom with a higher point limit as soon as possible. The point limit can seem, well, limiting but it’s for the best. The AI cannot compete with a smart player and it needs all the help it can get.

What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?

The one major upgrade from Puzzle Quest is that you can only get one extra turn at most per turn. So let’s say you have the ring of wrath that lets you go again if you match damage blocks. If you match damage blocks once you get to go again, but if you match damage blocks again on your second turn you do not get a third turn. This somewhat limits the cascade megaluck that you (or more often the AI) could get in the original Puzzle Quest, although occasionally you still get a cascade that lasts so long it charges all your units and fills your power bar.

What could this game have done better?

One of the game’s major potential issues is that it’s possible to ruin your savegame. No matter how much gold you have, when you attack a kingdom they only give you 100 gold to start out, which prevents you from buying 4 dragons right off the bat and setting fire to everything more than 2 inches off the ground. But, if you only bring expensive units and lose them all in the first battle and then save it, you are unable to buy new units and unable to leave the kingdom effectively ruining your save game. Now to be perfectly honest the game is too easy and this would only happen if you did it on purpose or really messed up badly. But it’s possible to do and if it’s possible, then someone is going to do it. It’s just bad game design.

The other problem with the game is that it is obviously unfinished. Originally, when you battled a kingdom the enemy fought back, and tried to reconquer the forts that you took, so you’d have to garrison units there for defense. According to Infinite Interactive this was incredibly “unfun” so they removed the enemy AI leaving the kingdom static for you to rape and pillage at your whim. I actually agree with them, it would be annoying to have to fight 30 or 50 battles to finally take down a kingdom. But you can see the remnants of this design change still in the game. You can garrison units in forts that will never be attacked, and conquering a kingdom is a silly series of fights to get to the last castle, none of them challenging in any way. It just kind of drags out the game when you wish you could move it along a little more quickly.

I believe they were also going to design a large scale kingdom AI where enemies would attack your kingdom and you’d have to defend it. You can tell because every time you conquer a kingdom you can build an army for that kingdom, assign heroes to it, etc. But to be perfectly honest you can just use your original hero for the entire game and never use the other kingdoms or the other heroes. It really feels like they had all these grand ideas for a proper sequel to Puzzle Quest and then one day they were told it had to ship by Q1 2009 so fix all the bugs and just ship it as is. While Puzzle Kingdoms as it stands is not bad, it’s not great either and clearly it could have used some more time in development.

Should I buy this game?

Overall Puzzle Kingdoms is a letdown from Puzzle Quest. It has fewer mini-games and the gameplay is fairly repetitive. That is not to say that it isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have the lasting appeal that kept you coming back to Puzzle Quest for more. Obviously Infinite Interactive had some ideas for the game that didn’t pan out, but it’s not like the player should suffer as a result. I think it’s a decent game for $10-15 but even at that price it isn’t great. Hopefully Puzzle Quest 2 (the “proper” sequel) which comes out this year will be better but in the mean time I highly recommend Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes for your puzzle fix.

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