Following the massive success of Puzzle Quest, Infinitive Interactive took another step into their innovative Puzzle RPG genre with the release of Puzzle Kingdoms in July 2009. Similar in style to the original title but differing in execution, Puzzle Kingdoms retains the familiar mix of Puzzle and Adventure though with some fundamental changes. Puzzle Quest gave the developers some pretty big shoes to fill, but does Puzzle Kingdoms hit the mark?
Well the world is in peril and you’re out to save it, by means of the location and destruction of a bunch of magical boxes. One such box is kept by the ruler of each kingdom so you need to defeat them and then destroy the box. The fact that there is a story at all does add a bit of depth to the game, and Infinitive Interactive did make the dialogue quite humourous, but the story is certainly not the reason you’ll keep playing the game.
The basic premise of the game is to match a block of 3+ like colours, in whatever shape you like so long as they are connected horizontally and vertically, by sliding the column or row of tiles on the board. Making a block of 3+ will destroy those blocks and give your units or Warlord (hero) power based on the colour destroyed. Once a unit’s power bar is filled up, it can perform a special attack against your opponent’s units. Your Warlord can also accumulate power when you match blocks, which it will use to cast various types of spell. There’s a wide variety of spells in the game, which are able to damage the opponent, heal your units or cast buffs and debuffs. Once all of one player’s units are dead, the battle is over. If you lose however, you are able to buy back your warlord by paying half of the gold you had at the time of death. This does take a lot of the challenge out of the game since it would be pretty difficult to run out of money and be unable to continue.
Although the game definitely retains the addictive nature of the original Puzzle Quest, gameplay feels rather shallow compared to its predecessor as the ability to level your character has been removed, leaving the game feeling lacking. Instead, you will attract a variety of Warlords to your kingdoms as you play, who can lead an army of up to 4 units. When you capture a kingdom this opens up another customisation “slot” to which you can assign your Warlords, along with different unit types, artifacts and spells which you’ll unlock along the way via minigames. These minigames do give the game a little variety, but you are only able to play them in between kingdoms. When you go into battle with a kingdom you cannot access the map screen again until you defeat the kingdom by winning all the battles. This means you will constantly find yourself doing a series of battles followed by a series of minigames which I felt made the minigame implementation feel somewhat forced.
Whilst the minigames can definitely be described as puzzles, the gameplay of the battles themselves is actually more strategic than puzzle based. You will need to carefully select the units you take into battle before beginning each kingdom, since you can only choose up to 4 at a time. Some take less power to activate their special attack but do less damage and have fewer hitpoints as a result. Depending on the type of enemies you will be facing, it’s important to decide whether you want an army of squishies who can attack often, or one or two beefy units with more hitpoints and a higher attack value. Similarly, you can only select a certain amount of items and spells at a time so again, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of each item and ability before you pick a fight with a kingdom.
I was initially excited to note that Puzzle Kingdoms has a multiplayer mode, but disappointingly this is available for hotseat only. In itself this wouldn’t bring the game down too much but it is definitely another significant minus point on a long list.
The graphics are similar in style to those of the original Puzzle Quest. There’s nothing fancy about Puzzle Kingdoms’ cartoon style, but it’s not unattractive either. The story progresses by way of a series of storyboards with dialogue bubbles and, well, it does the job. But where Puzzle Kingdoms is lacking in terms of its graphical and gameplay elements, it certainly wins back some points for its brilliantly arranged score. It is a very enjoyable part of the game and creates a pretty epic, immersive atmosphere. Had the rest of the game been implemented to the same standard as the music I think we’d have seen a much higher quality game as a result.
Overall, the RPG element which made Puzzle Quest so appealing is really lacking in Puzzle Kingdoms. The levelling of Warlords is very basic, only giving you the option to improve either attack or defence every few levels, which feels unsatisfying. At level 16 I still feel no connection to my main Warlord, and certainly not to my units which are simply replaced upon death with no options to equip them or level them as they become veterans. The game is absolutely worth playing for fans of the genre, but don’t expect it to be another Puzzle Quest as it definitely falls short.