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Game Info:

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
Developed By: Infinite Interactive
Published By: D3 Publisher
Released: Sept. 19, 2019
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Fantasy Violence)
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Tile-Matching Puzzle, RPG
Number of Players: 1 Offline, 2 Online
Price: $14.99 

If you’ve ever played a match 3 style puzzle game (Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Dr. Mario World) you know just how simple yet addictive these games can be. With a simple switch of 2 tiles a match of 3, 4, or even 5 objects can be made, causing an avalanche of new gems, jewels, or candy to fall into the empty spaces. Different rewards are given for the matching of these objects depending on the game, but the matching mechanic ensures that in each case the next solution is never more complicated than a simple switch. But what if the addictive simplicity of match-making was paired with a gaming experience with a bit more complexity and expansion? Let’s say an RPG (role-playing game)?

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is a remastered version of the much touted “original match 3 RPG” Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. The remaster brings to life once again the high fantasy narrative of the 2007 tile-matching classic, while also including the 2008 expansion Revenge of the Plague Lord, as well as an all-new expansion, Attack of the Golem Lord. The remaster also boasts new HD graphics, 100 new story quests, and 5 new character classes to choose from. With the sheer amount of content available, there is no denying that the game provides enough material to justify its $14.99 price tag. But are the new upgrades worth the time? Despite its length and occasional repetitiveness, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns capitalizes on and mostly improves off of its original formula, providing a fun and expansive fantasy world to delve into while expanding the match 3 concept into a fully fleshed out puzzle gaming experience.

To start the game the player must choose from a list of 13 different fantasy classes such as Warrior, Ranger, Knight, or Druid. Each of these classes is diversely represented racially and physically, and each are given a corresponding difficulty level from Easy (Wizard) to Very Hard (Blood Mage). The purpose of these difficulty levels might seem straightforward, but they don’t quite work as advertised. Each class starts the game with a certain number of spells they know, and a list of spells they will have access to as they level up. These spells are used in-game by matching colored runes during combat encounters that correspond to the type of mana (magic power) needed for a certain spell: blue, yellow, green, and red. The problem I encountered is that not all of the classes are created equal. My wife and I each experimented with a few different classes and some of them are much more prepared than others when it comes to combat.

The game’s basic layout is a high fantasy story told through combat encounters and dialogue scenes on an overview world map. Each combat encounter involves the player facing off against an enemy with a tile grid in between. Both the player and the enemy have health bars located above their portraits, as well as spaces around them for mana totals, accessories, spell resistances, and spells. Each of these sections plays a crucial role in combat encounters, where the focus is to whittle down the health bar of the enemy through dealing damage via spells or matching skulls on the grid. But as mentioned before, this is a point of struggle for some of the classes.

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
Highlights:

Strong Points: Plenty of content; great visual upgrades while keeping the classic look of the original; simple gameplay with options for complexity
Weak Points: Can be repetitive; unclear difficulty settings and unbalanced difficulty in many areas; cookie cutter story
Moral Warnings: Many quests involving sorcerers and the undead; heavy magic use

I played Warlock, a class which despite its Hard rating I found very balanced and useful. A decent starting health pool combined with good options for damage dealing, status effect inducing, and healing made my playthrough a mostly enjoyable one. My wife wasn’t so lucky. She picked Monk, and despite its Medium rating she found many battles incredibly frustrating due to the Monk’s lack of healing spells and its reliance on the charge counter mechanic, which required waiting multiple turns for spells to truly become effective. My experience playing her character was the same. Ultimately, she switched to Ranger and found more success but it is unfortunate that some archetypes were more thought out than others. Unless you are looking for a particularly challenging experience, I would suggest checking your spell book as soon as you arrive in Bartonia to start the game. If by level 10 your class doesn’t have a damage spell, healing spell, and some form of mana manipulation spell, another class will probably be easier, as these are much more reliable indicators of class difficulty than any rating next to the name.

The game’s struggle with difficulty is its most divisive trait. I would say about 75% of the game’s combat encounters are at their proper difficulty for where they are placed in the storyline and the other 25% range from questionably easy to controller-smashing levels of difficult. Most of the boss battles are significant difficulty spikes, with the game returning to previous difficulty once they’ve been defeated. The Attack of the Golem Lord expansion introduces the golems, which seem to be designed as a late-game challenge. But one of the very first quests you can take in the game involves a fight with a Wood Golem, and there is no winning that fight at early levels. In fact, I reached nearly 75% of my playthrough before I was able to take down the golem, that quest being stuck in my quest list for the entire time. When you can only take on 4 quests at once, this was quite frustrating.

As for easy quests, the T’rarg quests are baffling. At times in the story when regular enemies have health pools above 100, the T’rarg battles feature enemies with around 40 to 60 hit points. This would be a fantastic training quest line for players to level up in if it didn’t have level requirements, but the quest line forces you to reach certain levels before you can continue and doesn’t end until after level 20. Unsurprisingly, the final T’rarg boss fight follows the pattern of being much more difficult than any of the enemy fights before it.

All enemies have difficulty ratings when you encounter them in the story (these can be toggled to easier/harder at the cost or gain of gold and experience) but like when choosing a character, these ratings should be ignored in favor of assessing an enemy’s health pool, spells, and equipment. Often times the RNG (random number generator) element of the game, which decides which objects will fall into emptied tiles after a successful match, is decidedly unfair and a bit too many games come down to luck. My wife was routinely frustrated by this. Most combat encounters last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, so losing because of a few unlucky turns late-game is understandable in moderation but constant loss from bad RNG can make battles feel like a waste of time.

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability/Polish - 3/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 80%
Violence/Blood/Gore - 8/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5.5/10

But there are so many things Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns does well. The HD visuals are a welcome upgrade from the 2007 sprites I remember as a kid, and the character art is done well. The cornucopia of enemies throughout the game are all uniquely and tastefully drawn, including notoriously provocative fantasy monsters such as harpies and medusas. The sheer number of items and spells available is impressive, and the game even provides ways to learn spells and build items outside of those normally encountered in the story. The citadel (which can be accessed at any city that has been sieged) acts as an activity hub for your character and allows you to spend money to build structures like a mage tower or stable which allow you to research spells or train mounts. These activities offer slight variations on the puzzle gameplay including timed battles and “don’t run out of matches” challenges. The capture game style is my favorite, which requires you to clear a board of tiles with exactly the right matches or you must start over.

The music throughout is by far the highlight of the game. All the original themes from Challenge of the Warlords are kept here and each of them is its own wonderful tune that will no doubt be stuck in your head after just a few battles. The tunes would be in danger of becoming too repetitive if they weren’t so uniformly pleasing to listen to. Ranging from relaxing flute melodies to blood-pumping drum beats, the music successfully brings to life the fantasy world in a way the narrative cannot. Though the story is filled with colorful characters and is easy to follow, it isn’t innovative and mostly relies on popular fantasy tropes to move from beat to beat. The expansions are a welcome addition to the story however, providing access to areas of the map previously undiscoverable. One very useful quest line in the Revenge of the Plague Lords expansion provides a path over a mountain range that connects the lower left and right sides of the world map, which eases travel between mid-game areas and the base city of Bartonia tremendously.

Another quality of life improvement includes the removal of the illegal move penalty, which in the original version cost you 5 health points and forfeited your turn. This makes the game less harsh on input mistakes and the timed mount training games are much easier. These are crucial if you want to avoid unnecessary encounters with repetitive enemies. By training a mount up to level 15 or more you can bypass trivial combat encounters that would otherwise add needless hours to a playthrough.

When assessing the game's attitude toward morality, the narrative does revolve around sorcery and raising undead, with magic playing a large role in the story as a whole. There is suggested violence when you battle an enemy but dealing or taking damage simply involves vibration into the controller and a number onscreen of how many hit points were lost. There is no language except for the occasional d**n. Even though the story does revolve heavily around sorcery and the occult, the narrative clearly positions the player as a good warrior fighting against the evil undead. Good choices that benefit in-game character relationships are often rewarded by granting the player allies, which help in various ways during combat encounters.

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns does what a good remaster should by improving upon the established puzzle formula without drastically changing it and combining all extraneous content into one game. For those that enjoyed the 2007 original like I did, this game is an ogre’s portion of the beloved puzzle action that brought Challenge of the Warlords fame 13 years ago. For newcomers with the right knowledge going in, this can be a fun and lengthy experience in a fantasy world where matching like objects just might save the kingdom.

-(Mlirivale)

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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