Reviewed: May 10, 2010
Released: April 21, 2010
From the same developer that brought us 2007’s popular Puzzle Quest comes Puzzle Chronicles, another puzzle game and RPG hybrid. Like Puzzle Quest, Puzzle Chronicles is a puzzle game and fantasy adventure in one, combining fast-paced color-matching puzzle combat with RPG elements for seasoning. In this case, the game’s premise is a young barbarian warrior’s quest for revenge on the empire that enslaved his village.|
Admittedly, the execution of the plot and characterization is about on par with what you might see in a Saturday morning cartoon or Neopets Flash game, but as far as this type of game goes, a lackluster storyline and cast can be largely overlooked as long as the puzzle mechanics are engaging and fun. The good news is that Puzzle Chronicles holds up very well in the puzzle gameplay department and is both enjoyable and addicting.
While your loincloth-clad hero is running around on an overland map fighting monsters and rescuing his villagers, you’ll be battling all his enemies via puzzle. Where Puzzle Quest uses a match-three style of puzzle game (like Bejeweled), Puzzle Chronicles uses a falling block mechanic in which gems of four possible colors fall horizontally in sets of three that can be rotated. The colored blocks are cleared with star-shaped Battle Gems, which destroy all blocks of its color connected to it.
The game board is set up with two sides separated by a moving divider, and each game is a contest for territory on the board. The goal is to push the center divider far enough to your opponent’s side that he can no longer maneuver blocks. To do this, you’ll have to clear skull-shaped Rage Gems that increase your Rage Meter. Every time the Rage Meter fills, your barbarian will attack the enemy, pushing the divider toward the opponent’s end of the board. Additionally, clearing blocks of a certain color will gradually power up one of your Warbeast companion’s abilities, allowing it to inflict various conditions on your opponent. Multiplier blocks, items your hero may equip, and status effects add further options and considerations to the puzzle battles.
At various points of the game, certain opponents may be too difficult to defeat without leveling up your hero and picking up better equipment. Character stats and items can very noticeably alter how often certain types of gems drop, grant resistance to negative status effects, and provide other helpful effects. The fact that your hero and his equipment are persistent and may be used in local and online multiplayer battles provides further motivation to keep playing. You can also create multiple heroes with different equipment and statistics, which means that any family members or friends that play on your 360 can have their own characters usable in both solo and multiplayer modes.
Additionally, Puzzle Chronicles throws in a few solid mini-games (including match-four variations of the falling block game for increasing your Warbeast companion’s level and abilities, training your hero, treasure hunting, unlocking dungeons, and crafting stronger items), optional side quests, secret areas with strong monsters, shops for buying equipment, and various other diversions from the main quest to keep a player busy outside of battle.
All these praises said, however, I’m afraid I have to mention that unimpressive visuals and grating voiceovers are probably Puzzle Chronicles’ main weaknesses.
The 3D characters and special effects are smoothly animated and the game interface is clear and easy to read. It’s also satisfying to see equipped items modify the appearance of your character’s 3D-rendered appearance, and the comic book-style cut scenes are a great storytelling idea for a lower-budget game. Unfortunately, however, the overall execution of the graphics leaves something to be desired. While the puzzle and menu UI graphics are perfectly serviceable, the mediocre artwork, bland character designs, and lifeless voice acting simply do not do this game justice.
Other than the cheesy voices, at least the fantasy and Near East-touched soundtrack and sound effects are of professional quality, if perhaps a tad generic and limited in variety. More polish in both visual and audio presentation areas would have dramatically improved my Puzzle Chronicles experience, and I would love to see an upgraded version of this game someday.
Puzzle Chronicles can be purchased and downloaded from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 points (about $10) and takes up a hefty 533MB. The game includes multiple puzzle options, and the single-player adventure and persistent hero provide enough motivation to keep playing for items and stronger abilities. It’s also a convenient game for casual players, since battles tend to happen quickly and can be finished in a matter of minutes. The story mode saves automatically before and after each game, so you can stop to take a break virtually whenever you like.
Overall, I found Puzzle Chronicles to be worth my time and enjoyed playing it enough to disregard its cosmetic flaws. If you’re not the type to let a game’s superficial features – like low-budget graphics and uninspired voice acting – get you down, you’ll probably find Puzzle Chronicles an engaging and entertaining puzzle game. While the story-related RPG elements aren’t anything to write home about, the mechanical RPG elements - such as equipment effects and your hero and Warbeast’s statistics and abilities – do add significant interest and complexity to the game. If you have half a gig to spare on your 360’s storage device and could use a solid puzzle game, Puzzle Chronicles is a decent choice for $10.