Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns (Switch) Review
I’m a newbie to the Puzzle Quest franchise. Back in 2007 I was a poor child with very limited money with which to purchase fancy new DS titles, but I remember it reviewing positively and feeling like I was missing out. It got ported around a bit shortly after release but this is its first venture out in about 10 years, ready to show off some additional content and a fresh coat of paint. So let’s go and see what this old soul has to offer us, hey?
If you’ve ever touched Bejeweled or any of the thousands of mobile game clones of it, you’re likely familiar with match-3 puzzling. Swap two adjacent items on a grid to make matched lines of 3 or more, at its core. In Puzzle Quest, this is a fight: you’ll take turns with your opponent, and depending on the matches you make you’ll deal damage, collect cash or experience points, or amass mana to let you break out your special abilities.
“But,” I hear you say, “that sounds like an RPG!”
And you wouldn’t be wrong – you pick a class to determine what your abilities are, use your experience points to level up and adjust your stats to suit your playstyle. There are even gear and companion characters to make you even stronger as well. It’s a great match (no pun intended), and thankfully the game doesn’t stop at just letting the two sit together. It integrates different enemy types into its RPG systems really well, letting each battle feel different even though the mechanics are identical. When you come across a boss with some killer abilities you really feel the drama and adventure of it all, and it keeps everything feeling fresh well beyond any match-3 title I’ve played before.
I need to highlight that this core design is where the game’s strength lies, and it’s powerfully compelling. It’s easy to get lost in for hours, echoing addiction simulators like Civilisation as it encourages you do to one more quest, to get one more level, to maybe be able to beat that boss now… The randomness of falling mana in a lot of games would be something I’d complain about – if I put the work in, why do dice rolls determine how well I do? But Puzzle Quest knows how to tweak those very particular spots in your brain, and it gives a very little penalty for losing a match, so if you lose it always feels like maybe next time everything will just line up a little bit better…
But boy howdy does PQ only narrowly avoid falling apart into a twitching mess on your Switch. Character portraits (among various other graphical elements) are so out of focus it looks like they passed DS assets through a photoshop blur filter. I assume 5x skulls in the battle mode generate an explosion effect or something when you match them, because the Switch hung for a few seconds every time I did. And also when two matches happened at once. And also completely at random when anything else happened. This ran on the DS, developers – surely you can get your game to display properly? It’s annoying as you lose the ability to see what exactly is being affected by opponents’ special moves, and it just makes everything feel so much rougher. Menus and controls are also sloppily thrown together, and it feels designed for touchscreen but with no GUI change when using buttons. Sometimes I couldn’t seem to back out of a particular menu and had to quickly readjust and tap the X button on-screen. It’s generally pretty hard to figure out how to get to what you want to look at. And none of it looks good when you get there.
Everything else is serviceable. The story is nothing super exciting but I always saw it as a framing device to give you excuses to play more of the great battles. It’s pretty bog standard high fantasy fare with you being the chosen hero, defending the kingdom from the undead, etc. etc. The battles can get pretty difficult, and you’ll need to grind side quests to level up enough to get through the main story. To ease things a little for those that want it, there is an adjustable difficulty to every battle, but I didn’t like it – on Easy you see your opponent obviously squandering opportunities for extra turns and letting you do damage and it feels like cheating, on Hard it feels like your opponent gets treated so incredibly nicely by the RNG and is so brutally efficient with abilities it’s like they’re cheating. There’s also a lot of extra padding like your Citadel, companions and repeating, grindy sidequests that just break the pacing up and in general, feel unnecessary.
The music was nice, if forgettable, and while I appreciated the trick it does where the music changes depending on how you’re doing in the battle it was always a hard, noticeable transition. There’s multiplayer too, but only local with multiple Switches – no online or single-system feels like a hugely wasted opportunity, and it meant I was unable to test it out.
It’s rare to see a game get by on just je ne sais quoi alone, but Puzzle Quest somehow does. It’s extremely sloppily constructed and presented but somehow comes together into something much more than the sum of its parts. It’s like the ratatouille from Ratatouille. It’s a lovely home-cooked meal made by your grandma. I find it hard to believe this will be anyone’s favourite game on the Switch but it certainly has a way of getting its hooks into you, and I’m probably going to go and start again with another new class.
+ Great RPG/Puzzle integration
+ Well designed battles and enemies
+ Just one more round!
- Awful performance
- Ugly to look at
- Artificially padded