For any fans of the original Puzzle Quest who were disappointed with the sci-fi stylings of Galactrix, Puzzle Chronicles will certainly sound appealing. After all, it bares an uncanny resemblance to that king of Puzzle RPG titles, in no small part due to its style and setting. And the fact it too is developed by Infinite Interactive. The similarities are so striking that the initial absence of the word `Quest` from the title is a bit confusing and you’d be instantly forgiven if your brain automatically inserts it every time.
The premise of Puzzle Chronicles is so promising because it wholesale copies the fundamental formula of puzzle gameplay and RPG adventuring contained in Puzzle Quest. The game places the player in the role of a young Barbarian who is captured and sold into slavery, thus beginning the adventure of tracking down his former clan and saving the world from evil. If all this sounds a bit like Conan the Barbarian, then you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
Unlike Puzzle Quest there’s no starting choice of character and the games visuals have more of a basic, cartoony approach. While this sometimes works (for example, the enemy character designs) more often than not the quality dips into the realm of an amateur Flash animation. A classic example is the main human character who falls short of the stylised look they seemed to have been aiming for, ending up grossly out of proportion and quite unappealing.
The gameplay itself follows an approach similar to the Vs mode of classic titles like Columns or Lumines. Lines of three coloured gems drop into the play area and matching them up with the appropriately coloured Battle gem causes them to disappear, filling the attack gauge. Once full, the player (depicted in an animated section at the top of the screen, alongside their opponent) will automatically attack, reducing the enemy’s health and, if enough gems are destroyed, moving the divider across. This limits the space they have to manoeuvre their own lines, but naturally they can do the same to you.
Sound in theory and winning kudos for trying to capture a more adversarial style of play, sadly the games attempt at trying to be different backfires. With the play area running horizontally instead of vertically, it never quite shakes the feeling of being a tad gimmicky and the initial sense of disorientation is something that never really vanishes.
Travelling around the map in search of quests, Chronicles is segmented into Acts which contain smaller locked off areas, rather than a huge sprawling game world. While the close-up view of villages and towns should give it the deeper sense of exploration, it’s the lack of cohesion and disappointing visuals that mean it doesn’t feel any more engaging.
Along the way new weapons, treasure and familiars can be gathered to boost stats and special attacks. These are accompanied by an accurate visual depiction of the player character, so equipping some new armour or a fetching helm made from a wolf’s skull will show up in real time, which is a nice little addition.
Puzzle Chronicles suffers from a disruptive technical problem, caused by the amount of loading in the game. Bordering on absurd, it seems to have barely undergone any optimisation and loading screens pop up all over the place. This problem is illustrated best when doing something simple like moving back and forth from the inventory screen to the area map – with an accidental press of a button it’s possible to be presented with a barrage of boring load screens, accompanied each time by it resetting the music just to make it even more irritating.
By now it should be apparent why Infinite Interactive opted to drop the word `Quest` out of the games title, disassociating its flagship series from a game which clearly started life as a spin off. Chronicles comes across as little more than a poor facsimile, despite the instantaneous sense of familiar territory lent to it by aping Puzzle Quest. Here all the successful elements of its forerunner are too dumbed down to appeal to the fan base and, to its detriment, Chronicles seems to be chasing a much younger market.
Marginally entertaining in its own right, anyone hoping Puzzle Chronicles would be a stop gap release to tide them over until Puzzle Quest 2 would still be better off waiting for the official sequel. Anyone thinking of picking up Chronicles who hasn’t played Puzzle Quest would be better of splashing the money on the games superior cousin.