While the 12-year-old fusion of RPG and match-three puzzlers shows its age in its presentation, the combat still soars.
When Puzzle Quest first launched on DS and PSP in 2007, the concept of fusing match-3 puzzling with RPG elements was basically mind-blowing. Tile-matching puzzle games were largely casual experiences, so it was refreshing to see deeper turn-based combat working its way into that style. In the intervening 12 years, similar genre-blending games have cropped up, but in a way, nothing has really matched or surpassed the complexity of Puzzle Quest.
From that perspective, it’s beyond refreshing to see a polished-up version of the original Puzzle Quest game launching on Switch in Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns. This remastered version of the DS original comes with all previous added content from later ports as well as a good variety of brand new content, most notably found in five new classes. The classes provide unique spells and abilities while also acting as difficulty settings. A basic Warrior class is easy, Rogue is medium, and Warlock is hard. Eight classes return alongside the new ones: Blood Mage, Priest, Monk, Paladin, and Elementalist. What’s really nice about the new classes is that they wildly vary in complexity and approachability. The Blood Mage is immensely hard to use effectively, but offers a high risk/reward play style. It’s also the only one with the aptly labeled “very hard” qualifier.
No matter the class, your journey is more or less the same across the world of Etheria. The first hour is essentially always the same, but thankfully if you take on the lengthy quest with multiple classes, branching paths can add variety as you go. While I toyed around more with each class for a little bit for the purposes of this review, I wish there was a more interesting way to experiment with the different classes that didn’t require restarting the same opening area again and again. The class variety is awesome, but the depth and length of the game makes running multiple characters not all that fun.
It doesn’t help that the mostly generic fantasy plot and lore never grabbed me, though this remaster boasts a newfound emphasis on background details. The visual presentation just feels basic, which doesn’t hinder the gameplay, but certainly doesn’t make the world more endearing. The driving force to me was never the story though, but just exploring the point-to-point map of this fantasy world while coming across challenging puzzle-based battles against a wide array of foes.
The battles are chiefly the best part, as you alternate making moves in a puzzle grid looking to make a match of three tiles or more. Each tile ties into one of four different colored mana pools with other tiles such as gold coins and skulls that do damage. Every move is laced with strategy as you try to build up the mana pool that will unleash the magic spells you have waiting to be cast while also avoiding helping your opponent or setting them up for a powerful move. Enemies can be devious, and more so than the original release, I felt more punished for my mistakes. On the whole, that’s a good thing, but it also demands your awareness of the grid to be exact at times.
While the majority of the gameplay is spent playing these competitive puzzles, enough side quest-like distractions help keep things fresh. Your spell loadout can be customized, especially as you gain more of them as you level up. Certain enemies can be captured, trained, and ridden as mounts. Different cities can be conquered in the overworld, providing a financial boon as you seek out new items and gear. All of these periphery elements feed back into the battle system, making everything feel nice and cohesive. If you just want to mess around with the puzzles without the questing wrapper, you can just play a battle separate from the adventure mode, which still adds experience to your character.
There is certainly a lot to love about Puzzle Quest’s remastered return on Switch. The RPG-meets-puzzle battle system is just as deep and memorable, but almost everything else feels like something straight out of 2007. On the whole, that’s fine, but I can’t help but be dismayed by the bland visuals and presentation. But even failing that, you can just pick one of the 13 classes and romp your way through excellent and distinct battles. Purely based on its battle mechanics, Puzzle Quest is excellent, but it’s held back by the forgettable flourishes.