Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns — Three gems in a plastic brooch

So, full disclaimer, this player has never touched any of the other entries in the Puzzle Quest series. The hook of a match-three puzzle game coated in RPG mechanics, and gasp, a story to boot seemed extremely promising. It certainly delivers on that promise: it is indeed a puzzler with a story and mechanics beyond that of say, Candy Crush Saga or Zoo Keeper. But it is somewhat wanting, unfortunately.

Beginning with the narrative, it’s more or less standard high fantasy fare. In Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, the kingdom is at stake, and you’re tasked to save it. It’s not groundbreaking, nor particularly interesting, but it does well enough to provide a context for the puzzle battling. It is very old school, in a sense — it’s a pleasant excuse for the gameplay to happen, but broadly speaking it feels unnecessary. The fiction, characterisation and dialogue are… somewhat pedestrian? Not distracting, but I found myself more and more opting for the skip cutscene button. It’s a light affair; similar to a cheap loaf used to make a particularly delightful sandwich.

The shows the typical narrative screen in Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, with the player character to the left, setting named at the top, and the NPC to the right.
The cheap loaf that is the narrative.

A sandwich which would be nothing without the filling. My colleague Dann promised “quantum-mechanic-stacking” and that is a substantially better description of the gameplay than I could ever hope to provide. It is an absolute joy to be taken along for the puzzle ride, with a sort of Nintendo-esque creativity and freewheeling development of the simple game loop. Mechanics are stacked and introduced at a constant clip in line with the player’s own ability and deepening grasp of the core. Different elemental gauges come in to play dependent on your chosen class, which also affects the difficulty, with this player opting for a standard Warrior set up. Smashing different rows, clearing entire colours with a satisfying bit of UI feedback? Great fun. 

That’s the lovely central thrust of Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, really. It’s just fun. You pick it up, smack an enemy about and set it down. It is a brilliantly structured game for portable and handheld play, readily lending itself to microbursts of game time. And even then, this player has been playing it between bouts of The Witcher 3 and Destiny 2, and it feels like the perfect “gap stop” game. The slow wheel of progress is one that never stops spinning, even if it is a minuscule turn in a few battles over the course of a week.

This is a special move unleashed in Puzzle Quest.
One of the special quantum stacked mechanics, very satisfying to pull off.

However, this player found that in an expanded session of play, the game became somewhat of a chore to play, mostly due to a conflict of expectations. What the usual trick is with a puzzle game of this kind is the pursuit of the “flow state”, where a player feels in sync with the gameplay and loses track of the wider world, such as in Tetris. Here, due to the RPG structure, the puzzling feels strangely muted and stunted — just as you feel a connection the battle is over and you’re back to the world map. However, in considering the puzzles in a manner similar to Fire Emblem, or as an encounter in a more traditional RPG, the appeal can certainly be seen — this just isn’t quite what this player enjoys in this form of gameplay, to be blunt.

Chiefly, however, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is satisfying. It is polished, full of depth, and a lovely distraction. Sure, the quest element is… rote at best, dull at worst, and very easy to ignore. But these puzzle battles, with their intricately layered mechanics and constant evolution are the shining trio of gems in the mire of pedestrian presentation.

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is available now on Nintendo Switch.

 

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