One game that has always stood out for me is Puzzle Quest. It’s one of those unique titles that manages to stand apart from the crowd by being completely different and yet feeling strangely familiar. One of those titles that makes you wonder why it’s never been done before.
In Puzzle Quest, you basically fight battles against monsters by aligning orbs on a big board. The goal is to try to get three of them in a row. Aligning three orbs of the same color and you’ll gain mana of that color, which can be used for spells and abilities. Aligning three skulls lets you deal damage. If you get four or five in a row instead of three, you’ll get an extra turn. Outside of battles, the game plays out like a really basic RPG of sorts. You do quests, gain equipment, level up, craft items… All the basics of RPGs are there.
Last night, I finally aligned the last three skulls in the game, killing the evil Lord Bane in the process. Not only that, I also forged a Godlike item. This is my reward for having done this.
Two achievements. The first one worth 35 gamerscore, the other 15. It’s boosted my gamerscore to a shiny 19,138
Don’t get me wrong, I like achievements. However, the game didn’t make me feel I accomplished anything besides the newly numbers to my gamerscore. That’s where the problem is.
Puzzle Quest is one of those games where the computer is a lying, cheating, sneaking bastard. Let’s put it this way, you can get extra turns by moving four orbs of the same color in a row. Newly dropped orbs are allowed to create chains with the ones already in the field, and still count for your turn. The computer controls these orbs and will, more often than not, use this to create a whole series of combos.
Not enough? Okay, I’ve got more.
If your stats are high enough, you can get random extra turns by simply aligning orbs. Got high points in red mana? Red orbs will have a decent chance of giving you extra turns. Now imagine the computer ignoring that four in a row that would have gotten him an extra turn in favor of aligning three of the color he needs for a spell. He gets an extra turn. After that he makes a move to align the four anyone would have logically picked first. A lot of time the order in which the computer picks the moves only makes sense if you consider it knew it was getting that random extra turn.
Still not enough?
Let’s talk Mana Drain. When there are no moves left on the board, all the orbs get moved off the screen causing a Mana Drain. You get a new board and the mana reserves of both players are drained. Imagine you have enough mana to cast a spell or use an ability to end the fight. You have been trying to get this mana together for a while now. The computer starts a long combo using the above techniques. The combo doesn’t kill you as you have way too much health for him to do so. Once the combo ends there’s no more possible moves on the board. Mana drain, you can’t use your skills anymore and have to hope you can either build up that mana reserve or kill him before he gets enough mana to do his move. You know, Swallow Whole, which is a one hit kill anyway.
So, why do I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything, despite having stuck with all of this until the very end?
Because the game doesn’t make me feel like I beat it. It made me feel like it allowed me to pass to the final screen.
This counts double so for the item forging achievement. You craft items the same way you fight battles, except you’re the only one making moves. Clear enough anvils and you have your new item. The problem here is that the game decides whether or not anvils even make an appearance. And if there’s a Mana Drain it doesn’t just clear the board. No, that’d be too kind. You have to start all over. It took me several hours to get this achievement, simply because the game kept refusing to give me anvils. In one game, I died two moves after going to the next screen, simply because the game didn’t give me enough possible moves to survive. The time I finally did forge the item, there were anvils everywhere. You would’ve needed to be blind not to be able to forge the item in that run.
It’s a shame, really. As much as I like the idea of Puzzle Quest. And like thinking about Puzzle Quest. Or talking about Puzzle Quest. I really can’t stand playing the game, what with how it cheats all the time.
Shortly after beating the game, I loaded up Alien Hominid and made it to the final boss in one run. He beat the shit out of me.
That was much more satisfying than Puzzle Quest can ever wish to be.