The developer of Puzzle Kingdoms, Infinite Interactive, should just be more honest with its naming. Instead of giving each “new” version of their series a different title, they should use numbers. This would at least signify the derivative gameplay and design in each instead of building up hope for the same jolt of creativity inherent in the original Puzzle Quest.
At this point, there is a certain “paint by numbers” feeling to each new game released by Infinite Interactive. There are slight tweaks, such as switching from the Bejeweled-style of the past games to a new system that compares more to a hybrid of Bejeweled and the classic board game Labyrinth, but the same engine hums underneath. Specifically, a challenging early-game experience leads to easy, mind-numbing repetition as you gain levels, and this is a monumental issue when there are no enchanting visuals or sound to fall back on.
Publisher: Zoo Games
Developer: Infinite Interactive
May. 19, 2009
Puzzle Kingdoms starts promisingly enough, as your tongue-in-cheek hero is a bit plucky about his assignment to save kingdoms from famine by securing the Box Of Evil in each. Apparently, these were planted at some point by a Skeletor-looking figure. Keeping with the comparison to 1990s cartoons, after you save each kingdom, Skeletor essentially shakes his fist and chastises a minion, similar to Dr. Claw from “Inspector Gadget.” Unfortunately, outside of the overall goal of saving the world, there is no story continuity from kingdom to kingdom.
When you swim past the initial sea of text to open the game, you finally get to the relatively simple puzzle dynamics. You control a hero who commands a group of up to four soldiers. Sliding rows of colored symbols on a board up, down, left or right, you try to match three or more. Do so, and you either fill up your magic meter or the attack gauge of your troops. Each of your troops has attack and defense statistics “" when they take too much damage, they die. If you lose all of your troops, and you don’t have a hero in reserve, it’s game over.
As previously mentioned, Puzzle Kingdoms is challenging in its initial stages. The beginning units “" peasant, swordsman and archer “" all have very low default stats. As your hero gains a few levels, his or her stats stack with the troops; i.e. if your hero has a defensive rating of three, then all the troops under their command automatically gain three more hit points. Equipment, spells and new troop types are all unlocked via timed and “solve this puzzle within X moves” mini-games after you conquer kingdoms.
Unfortunately, this initial challenge is negated within a few hours. Once you survive the first pair of kingdoms, you get access to the knight unit, which can soak up damage for the rest of your troops. Another acquirable item gives a five-point boost to the defense of all your units, making it easy to win battles even if you have four peasants. You are technically limited to carrying 100 “points” in each kingdom “" for example, a high level hero costs far more points than a level one hero, and the knight costs 13 points to the peasant’s five “" but as long as you carry a few items, you are practically invulnerable.
If one feeling permeates Puzzle Kingdoms, it is this lack of caring and balance. I suppose it is nice of me to save the ogres from resorting to cannibalism, but meh, I don’t really care if I don’t. I mean, the main character is kind of entertaining, but nobody he interacts with is. The game also froze on me several times, invalidating an hour of work. And even though it is an untimed puzzle game for the most part, you have to use the Wii-mote to play it, which leads to input errors, because of a generally sloppy interface. How much can a company really care about a game if it recycles the exact same perspective, style and mechanics from a game released on the PS2 several years ago? Or if they make idiotic decisions like using a minuscule font for all of the dialogue? If they don’t give an S, why should I?
Unless you feel like lining the pockets of the developers a bit more, there isn’t any real reason for me to recommend Puzzle Kingdoms. The original of the series, Puzzle Quest, is still the superior game of the trio “" stick to that if you need a puzzler on the Wii. Kingdoms is only worth playing if you’re absolutely desperate for a new puzzler fix.