Early on during my Nintendo DS days, I played a lot of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, as well as Mario Kart DS. But more Puzzle Quest than anything else. It successfully combined role-playing, strategy, and puzzle elements in one addictive pill to swallow, and threw in a fun, if cookie-cutter storyline to follow. At some point, I showed it to my sister D, and she got hooked, asking to play any time I came down. Eventually, I just left the cartridge with her since she could play it on my mother’s Nintendo DS easier–and faster–than waiting for me to visit every few weeks. Anyways, when I was into it, I was into it, and Puzzle Quest was this nearly perfect storm to kill fifteen minutes and feel like you were accomplishing something and having fun, marching down a path.
Hold on. I just pulled out my copy of Puzzle Quest and popped it into my Nintendo 3DS. Looks like my save data is still there, as well as my sister’s. My character’s name is Ferpina, and she’s a tough-looking, dagger-wielding, redheaded warrior at level 50. Oh my. When I load up the current mission, it’s called “The Final Battle,” and a message says that I managed to escape from Lord Bane’s clutches, and that I must try again. That means either I never actually beat Puzzle Quest or I did beat it and this is the last moment it saves your progress. Ha, I just tried taking on Lord Bane and he whipped my butt hard, so I have to imagine I never saw credits roll.
Well, good news and bad news–the developers behind Puzzle Quest are back (505 Games), and their new game is just as appetizing and fulfilling as before, if strikingly similar. In Gems of War, you create an avatar–I’m a cat lady warrior–and then match gems to power your array of spells, as well as match three or more skulls to deal direct damage to your opponent’s team of enemies. If you take out each troop on the opposing side, you’ll gain gold and souls, both of which are used to buy more soldiers, as well as level up the ones you got. Rinse and repeat until you take hold of all the kingdoms, of which there are currently fifteen. It’s quite close to what Puzzle Quest was, but with some free-to-play stuff here and there, though none of it has been bothersome or in the way at this point.
For Gems of War, I’ve been sticking to a specific team, really enjoying the way these troops interact and gel with each other. In my first slot is either a red mana or yellow mana weapon (I keep flipping between them) that does damage to a single enemy. Then I have a Boar Rider, currently strengthened up to level 7, followed by a Templar for boosting shields, and a Golem for exploding skulls and reducing enemy armor. Boar Rider is maybe my favorite troop, as its ability is to clear out an entire row, deal damage to an opponent’s troop, and then take a free turn afterwards. If you are playing strategically, you can use this ability to gain multiple turns in a row and keep the attack pressure on your enemy.
Still, I mash buttons during the intro and outro “dialogue” sequences, which exist only to give you a story-related reason to do battle. It’s fine, but fluff, and I’m never very invested in any narrative here. I just want to do all the quests in a kingdom and then claim it as mine. I also feel like there are perhaps too many choices when it comes to troops and you can waste a bunch of souls leveling up the ones that don’t matter or aren’t great for long-term play, which is why I’m rocking a team of one common and two rares because that’s all I’m comfortable experimenting with. Some of the rarer cards look neat, but aren’t immediately easy to use.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Gems of War is that, so long as you don’t go spending all your coins like a kid without a care, you can play duel after duel after duel. There’s no energy system here to stop you from playing. Each duel costs 50 gold to start, and that’s easy scratch to have and hold on to, even if you end up losing a few. Other free-to-play games bum me out in comparison to Gems of War, simply because they make it a struggle to even play and make progress. Not in this realm though.
Also, allow me to list what other match-three (or try hard to match four for better results!) games I’m currently juggling alongside Gems of War:
- Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight
- Pokémon Shuffle
- Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition
Okay, three. That might not seem like many, but it is when they are all at once similar and dissimilar to each other. It’s like trying to eat four cheese sandwiches at the same time, but each one contains a drastically different tasting cheese that lingers on your palette and actually begins to affect how you taste the other delicious sandwiches. Also, you like cheese, so this is one of those first-world problems, where it’s only really a problem if you analyze it too deeply. If you have a better analogy than this, please leave it in the comments.
Well, back to matching I go. These skulls aren’t going to combine themselves. See you after I’ve conquered every kingdom in the realm, leveled up every troop I like using (sorry, Zombie), and decked out a variety of teams to their fullest capacity, each capable of handling a number of situations tossed before them, whether it’s a boss fight or simply trying to stay alive as long as possible in an arena battle. In short, “To (Gems of) waaaaaaaaaar!”