Puzzle Chronicles, from Infinite Interactive, is an unusual hybrid of the role-playing game fused with puzzle-play a-la Tetris or Bejewelled to create a game in which you follow the course of a barbarian hero in a fantasy realm on a quest for vengeance. While you are playing intensely to line up colored gems of different type and importance, line them up, and put them in place, you are fighting a battle in which your hero is staving off an assault of villains, brigands, monsters, undead, or worse.
The two genres seem like an unlikely combination, but the formula had been proven previously with Puzzle Quest, from the same Australian developer. The player takes the role of a warrior who, like Conan the Barbarian, is sold into slavery and is eventually freed by a mysterious benefactor, sent on a quest to fight numerous enemies and fulfill his destiny. The early stages of the game teach the player the basics of the puzzle game, which is basically a competition Tetris in a shared field- as you are playing your game, the opponent plays their game, and the better that you play, the more area of the play field that you own, as you push a divider line over into the opponent's play field - less room for them to play in, less time to make those critical decisions over where to place their gems or what moves to make. In essence, it's angry Tetris where your moves have consequences, acted out by graphical representation of your fighter squaring off against his opponent in the top of the screen.
The game moves you through the story of the main character - from his release to freedom by a mysterious woman with influence and power and apparent knowledge of our main character's history on to his journey as he battles a variety of foes in a large map of areas that the player will unlock by successful puzzle battles. The plot of the game is typical fantasy fare, no surprises - and is told in graphical cutscenes which are pretty simple - the voice acting is par, and the animation is, well - it's comic book panels that are barely animated. It's almost disappointing that the whole fantasy trapping that the puzzle game has been wrapped around got some short shrift - but the puzzle game at the core is quite simply good enough that the game delivers what it is supposed to - a puzzle game that serves up some story, some setting, and some consequences to the aftermath of each round that you play.
The developers took the RPG element a step further, and worked in a gameplay mechanic in that the player can upgrade their skills within the game - spending experience points earned within the game to improve the damage done by attacks by certain gem colors, or by rage gems (combining rage gems causes 'damage' to the enemy by pushing the bar over into his turf and reducing the amount of room he has to resolve puzzles) or to upgrade the attacks of your warbeast - a sidekick war dog you rescue early on in the tutorial that you can crack out as a lifeline to cripple an enemy, sabotage his rage gems, and buy time to play your game - because, the combat all takes place in a puzzle game, and seconds count.
Suggestions: The overall game is a tight package - the graphics are simple; most of the time, you are looking at a Tetris-like gamefield, barely paying attention to the animated hero and monsters duking it out over the play field - and when not engaged in a match, the game has you navigating through a simply illustrated map screen where you travel about, encountering the threats and challenges that lead you along to your next puzzle fight. The voice acting is a bit hammy and Satursh, but it dovetails with the simple graphical style of the game, so it doesn't feel off. And the music isn't so repetitive or irritating that you'll be diving for the MP3 player to plug into the USB slot on the front of your 360 immediately.
In all, Puzzle Quest is a pleasant surprise - it's an evolution of a first brave step, combining two very unlikely bedfellows - fantasy role playing and tetris-style puzzle play - in a hybrid where one rewards the other and you just want to keep playing.