Developer Infinite Interactive struck gold with the debut of Puzzle Quest, blending a popular puzzle game and traditional role-playing mechanics into one addictive package. Puzzle Kingdoms uses the same hybrid formula as its predecessor, but changes to the underlying puzzle game and battle system make for a slower, more strategic experience. It's not as accessible as Puzzle Quest and doesn't look as pretty, but it's fun and engaging regardless.
Engaging puzzle mechanics wrapped in an RPG shell, again.
After choosing your new warlord in Puzzle Kingdoms, you'll meet one of the many heroes you'll lead into battle throughout the campaign. These heroes learn new spells and gain new abilities as they level up, much like in Puzzle Quest. However, Kingdoms puts more emphasis on the gold you collect, which you'll use to recruit different troops into battle. Troops form the basis of your physical attacks, but they can be defeated and permanently lost during battle. Your game ends if you lose all of your troops and have no gold left over to recruit new fighters. This mechanic adds an extra layer of strategy to the game because the makeup of your team greatly affects your performance during battle. For example, you can customize your group to focus on cheap, disposable fighters who are quicker to attack or on costly, well-armored soldiers who might take longer to launch an offensive.
Puzzle Kingdoms retains the typical match-three battle mechanic from Puzzle Quest, but instead of swapping tiles, you'll be shifting an entire row or column in one direction, adding one tile to the play field while removing another. The display shows you the tile will be added, so you always know the consequences of your moves. The goal is to create groups (straight or L-shaped) of three or more like-colored tiles. Each troop requires a specific combination of matched tiles to build its attack power, and any unused matches automatically add to your magic pool. Destroying all of an enemy's troops wins the match, and defeating all of the enemies on a map captures that kingdom. Eventually, you can choose which kingdom to take into battle with a maximum of four heroes, troops, and relics. This new battle mechanic is much more complex than Puzzle Quest and therefore a bit less user-friendly, but those who take the time to learn it will find a more intricate, rewarding system.
When you aren't in battle, you can travel the world map to play minigames at shrines, dungeons, and taverns. These games challenge you to clear the board of tiles within a set number of turns or to match a specific number of colored tiles within a time limit. Your rewards for completing the minigames are usually status upgrades, items, or information. You can also try out the multiplayer Hotseat mode where two people take turns playing the game on one screen. These are all interesting diversions when you want to take a break from the main quest, but there's nothing particularly innovative about their execution.