Game review: Puzzle Quest 2 and Plague, Inc. for Windows Phone

What? TWO game reviews in ONE post? Yeah, this may not always be the case for phone game reviews, but in these two cases, the games are just so simple that there’s not much reason to devote a full post to each of them. One I liked, and the other did nothing for me. I didn’t dislike it, but I also don’t find myself wanting to play it any more.

First, let’s cover Puzzle Quest 2, which is definitely my kind of game. The Puzzle Quest brand is turning into a big licensed property franchise, and a Kotaku review of the latest version sporting Marvel characters felt it was weak, and stated that the best in the series was the second game. I grabbed my phone, hoping that maybe, just maybe, there would be a Win Phone version. (Game makers, please don’t say a game is coming out on all mobile platforms when you mean just Android and iPhone. It gets my hopes up and then crushes them cruelly.) There was, and so I bought it and spent a long, LONG time playing it. I might still be playing through the story quest now, but after level 50, the game just erased my character and dumped me back to the beginning. I think eventually, I’ll start it over because I love puzzle games, but that loss of progress was more than a little hard to take.

What Puzzle Quest 2 is, is a match 3 tile puzzle with some context added to the turns-based struggles with AI opponents. They could have just made the game without the fantasy story and it would have worked just fine for me. But the idea is that each opponent is a different monster with different spells and defenses. As you progress down through this dungeon, you come across bigger and badder enemies, and each time you have to revise your playing style to counter theirs. You fire off your own spells by collecting gems of various colors, but you can also collect little fists to gather action points for using a weapon, or you can match skulls to do damage directly. And that’s pretty much it.

The game tries to add some variety with puzzles for collecting loot, for breaking doors down, for springing booby traps, and for picking locks. It also tosses some boss battles in with restrictions on your spells or specifying a certain item you have to activate. You can find NPCs willing to train you in new spells by solving tricky puzzles that must end with an empty screen. But no matter what flavor the puzzle is, it’s still a match 3 game. If you match 4 or 5 tiles, you get added bonuses and an extra turn, and if you can fire off a “heroic” chain reaction, you get extra XP at the end of the fight. XP builds so that you can unlock new spells, which is a fun way to keep things from being too repetitive.

If I have any complaints about the game, it’s that even on Easy mode, early fights feel grossly unfair. Enemies have double or even triple the hit points of my character, and I have nothing to fight their many spells. Later on, however, the game starts unlocking some bad ass spells that even the odds, so much so that even a boss with four times my health and regeneration can be slammed to death with just a few well placed spells attacks. In that respect, it’s delicious revenge that makes up for those hellish early levels. But still, if this is my experience on Easy mode, I have to wonder was sort of douchebaggery occurs at harder difficulties.

I’ll give Puzzle Quest 2 4 stars and recommend it to fans of puzzle games.

Moving on, Plague, Inc. was recommended to me by a friend on Facebook and seconded by another, both of them loving the premise of killing off everyone with plagues. So I grabbed my phone and saw it was available, and I bought and took it for a short spin.

Frankly, I don’t see the appeal. You’re presented with a map and are told to choose the country where your disease will start, and as it infects people, you get more DNA points to evolve various traits for your disease. You can give it better qualities to resist climate extremes and medicines, and you can add symptoms that make it more deadly or more virulent. You can add methods of transmission so it spreads more easily. As the game progresses, you pop little icons on the map to get more DNA points or to slow research on the cure. If a cure is developed, you lose. If it doesn’t, everyone dies, you win, and you unlock some genes to apply to your next disease. Your infection is given a score, and I guess the appeal is supposed to be to build a disease that kills super fast and earns a prefect star rating.

But after just a few plays, I don’t care to try again. It’s a bit too simplistic for my preference, and while the news-feed scrolling at the top had some funny lines, the game just isn’t much fun for me.

I give Plague, Inc. 2 stars and might suggest it for strategy fans looking for something to play on their phone.