Review by ihategod
A wonderful mish-mash of genres and mechanics
Puzzle Quest served as the inspiration behind a slew of puzzle hybrids being released, many of them simple imitations. Runespell: Overture is not one of them. While the initial impression would be to the contrary, upon digging a little deeper, the player finds themselves absorbed in a richly detailed world backed up by robust game-play mechanics. However, this is not without its flaws.
Plot - While this tends to be a throw-away element for most, if not all puzzle games, Runespell tries to create a D&D accented world in which the player avatar (called ''The Changeling") awakens. Amnesia and other tropes of the genre rear their heads as the game begins, although in this case, I feel that they are handled better than most other games. The conversations feel quite realistic, in that they have a flow and each NPC's character seems just as realistic. There's almost always a dialogue choice thrown in with each conversation for the impression of choice. However, this doesn't change the fact that the plot is rather generic and otherwise predictable.
Graphics - The graphics are richly detailed (for a puzzle game) with plenty of effects following each attack and spell animation. The world map is also well done and gives the illusion of crossing mountains and snow capped peaks with the way the main character dips and rises as you traverse them. The character models are richly illustrated (again, for a puzzle game) and evoke a sense of wonder and anticipation each time you encounter a new creature to battle. The effects attached to spells tend to become stale however, as only the damage changes per spell level while the magic animation remains the same.
Music/Sound - The music is your Lord of the Rings style sweeping arrangements and sounds are atypical of your hack and slash genre; grunts, screams, arrows flying and swords on shields. There is no voice acting, only writing so for those that abhor reading, this may be a slight annoyance. On a whole, the sounds/music fit nicely with the world that is presented, although nothing really stands out.
Gameplay - The meat of the game.The underlying mechanic of this game is the use of Poker hands to deal damage. Anyone familiar with Poker should be able to pick this game up immediately, and for those that are not (such as myself) the tutorial serves as a well written and comprehensive guide on how to play.
The player has 7 rows of cards in which they must make matches of the same numbers, suits or suites by shifting single cards from each row to another. The greater the matches in a row, the more damage dealt to the opponent. Each 'turn' consists of 3 moves that the player may make, after which the opponent may make 3 moves, ad infinitum. However, only 5 cards may be stacked per row, after which the damage that row will inflict is displayed at the bottom of the row. The player may then activate the row, thereby removing all the cards in it and inflicting damage. This leads to the strategic element of the game; do you try and make greater matches and inflict more damage but take longer or chip away at the opponent with little damage in quick bursts? There is also an element of stealing your opponents cards, in a bid to bolster your own attacks or to delay theirs. While this sounds complicated on paper, it is alot more fluid in play.
Ability cards also come into play immediately after the tutorial. Abilities are powered by two things; Charges (how many times that ability may be used) and Rage (how much energy is needed to activate the ability once). Charges can be bought through the various stores in the game while Rage is generated every time raw damage is inflicted or taken during a battle. Abilities range from pure elemental damage to support effects like granting extra moves for one turn. Ally cards grant unique effects that do not have charges and can be used after a period of cool-down.
The AI is also well done; it uses its abilities appropriately (i.e. not spamming a cheap spell over and over, not casting an expensive spell which would be better suited to use later in the match, etc) although it would certainly benefit from being slightly more aggressive.
The only real complaint I have is the Charge system; it is far too easy forget to purchase more charges between matches only to realize that you can't use your favourite spell halfway through a fight. The costs add up quite a bit as well, should you decide to purchase multiple Charges, meaning more grinding for Silver.
Also, there is no 'level up' system, per Puzzle Quest. Instead, everything is inventory based. Abilities come in tiers, and there are some stat buffs that can be allocated, but there isn't any progressive increment in the Changeling's strength beyond abilities.
Overall, the game-play is well balanced with the style presented. There will never be a fight which can't be beaten with a little planning in the abilities and some raw attacking.
Final Score - Runespell is a well crafted puzzle game that serves as a fine alternative to Puzzle Quest and its successors. The game-play mechanics are genuinely unique and a breath of fresh air in a genre inundated with "Match 3" clones. Some minor inconveniences are present, but nothing glaring enough to ruin the players fun. Which I feel is most important when it comes to playing a puzzle game.
Product Release: Runespell: Overture (US, 07/20/11)
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