The original Puzzle Quest came out of nowhere with a bizarre mix of RPG elements and Bejeweled-style gem matching to challenge preconceived notions and turn the gaming populace into a bunch of hopeless addicts. Its sequel, Puzzle Quest 2 doesn’t mess with the gem-matching mojo too much, but refines the overall experience by adding new RPG elements, swapping out new minigames for old, and getting rid of features that were annoying, or pointless, or both. Get your doctor on speed dial: It’s time to get addicted all over again.

Puzzle Quest 2 starts as so many RPGs do, with you choosing from a set of pre-designed character classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. There are no stats to manage or skill points to assign, just a hero to choose and a path to follow that takes you to your very first quest which, naturally, involves a bit of rat killing. Unlike its predecessor, which had you plotting points on a 2d map and cycling through chat bubbles in flat cut scenes, Puzzle Quest 2 lets your character actually walk around towns and dungeons. It’s a bit of an illusion – you can’t roam freely, only follow set paths – but it’s far more inviting and visually interesting than a map and a menu.

Your mission in Puzzle Quest 2 is a grandiose battle of Good vs. Evil that I stopped paying attention to about thirty seconds into the opening cutscene. The individual quests you take, both those that further the story and the extraneous side quests, are far more interesting and immediate than some random Big Bad threatening All That’s Good In The World, anyway. Whether it’s convincing a goblin to stop attacking a town or tracking down the creature of a young girl’s nightmares, your approach will be the same – pick a fight, take down the bad guy.

The core of Puzzle Quest 2‘s combat remains largely unchanged from the original – match three or more gems of the same color to receive mana to power your spells, or match skulls to do direct damage – but adds some much-appreciated improvements. Gone are the experience and coin gems that you never matched unless you didn’t have any other moves to make, replaced with purple and action gems. Purple is just another color of mana at your disposal, but action gems, represented by small gloves, are what you tap when you want to use an item like a weapon, potion, or shield. Weapons add a welcome layer of strategy to the fighting, especially now that both you and your opponent will frequently block attacks automatically, taking only partial damage. The more powerful a weapon is, the more points it costs to use, leaving you free to go for lots of small attacks or a few big ones. Combined with your spellbook and the skulls, you’ve got plenty of offensive options.

Combat typically ends with you collecting gold, experience, and a bunch of random detritus like wood and iron that at first appears to be completely useless, but which can be stockpiled to upgrade your gear. The upgrades aren’t cheap but can turn a run-of-the-mill sword or shield into something truly masterful. If you’d rather not wait until you find that fourth emerald you need to improve your sword, you can always just flat-out buy new stuff, too.

Depending on how you felt about capturing creatures, training mounts, and laying siege to towns, you may or may not be happy to know that Puzzle Quest 2 comes with a completely new set of minigames, each giving you different gem-matching goals. Some, like bashing in a door, are relatively straightforward, simply requiring you to make enough matches before you run out of moves. For others, like to pick a lock or open a door with a spell, you’ll have to be adept at manipulating the board to drop specific types of gems into a particular spot on the bottom line of the grid. While they’re largely an improvement over the “beat the clock” tasks of the original game (the room-searching game notwithstanding), none of them quite have the finesse of Puzzle Quest‘s “clear the board” game. At least there’s no announcer anymore telling you “You are victorious!” or lamenting that “You have suffered defeat.”

With all that it improved, it’s unfortunate that Puzzle Quest 2 got a few basic things wrong. When shopping for new gear, there’s no easy way to compare the wares you’re browsing with what you’ve already got equipped, turning trips to the market into a real chore. You won’t have any idea what an upgrade will do to an item until you actually go through with it, which would be more acceptable if the upgrades weren’t so pricey. You can assume that the item’s stats will go up at least a point, and perhaps even more, but if you want half my gold and a big chunk of my resources, I’d like a little more info on what you’re about to do to my gear.

Bottom Line: Puzzle Quest 2 isn’t a huge departure from its predecessor, but brings some welcome freshness in the form of weaponry, new spells, and new minigames.

Recommendation: If you drained every last drop of fun out of the first Puzzle Quest, you may not find enough here to evade an overwhelming feeling of deja vu, but if you never caught the bug the first time around, definitely give this a shot. Yes, it’s an absurd premise. Yes, the RPG elements are very shallow. Try it anyway. Just don’t be surprised when you notice the sun coming up.

[rating=4]

Check out what our review scores mean here.

Game: Puzzle Quest 2
Genre: Puzzle/RPG
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Publisher: D3Publisher
Release Date: June 30th, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PC, DS
Available from: Amazon

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Susan Arendt is very happy she never has to hear “You have suffered defeat” again, but kind of misses her rat mount.

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