the original Quest for puzzles, from 2007, is one of those games whose genius is right there in the title. It has puzzles and you go on a quest. Its creators had a simple idea and executed it well: using a Bejeweledmatch-3 style puzzle game as the game engine for a role-playing adventure, where you fight enemies, level up, and follow a story. This genre mash-up from Australian studio Infinite Interactive, designed by Steve Fawkner, was all the more inspired by its incongruous, salted-toffee clash of two flavors: gaming in its most casual, abstract, game-sized form. ‘one bite, fused with a long-form storytelling genre known for its depth and complexity. It just worked.
A deluge – okay, maybe a stream – of copiers followed, then slowed to a trickle, before completely drying up. The world has evolved. There remained an alchemical brilliance to Fawkner’s discovery, but the subgenre fell into disuse, as subgenres often do. Quest for puzzles came too soon to make hay on smartphones, where GungHo is similarly themed, free Puzzle cleaned up a few years later – but even that game is no longer available on the iOS app store.
All this made the recent release of Puzzle Quest 3 a curiosity – not to mention a silver lining for people, like me, who like to match colors and watch the numbers grow. But, I’m sad to report that in the ensuing 15 years, Puzzle Quest has gone astray.
Puzzle Quest 3, which is available on Steam, iOS, and Android, no longer finds the magic in that same simple connection of gems and stats. It’s a polished game, with smoothly animated 3D characters unleashing flashy attacks from either side of the game board. But the basic match-three action is unvarnished and basic, the pacing of its interaction with the Combat systems (you match gems to charge spells of the same color) feels sluggish, the story is bland, and the many layers of RPG tinkering outside of combat weigh it down. It doesn’t help that it’s a free game, with the confusion of currencies and resources to be viewed with suspicion when trying to track them, wondering when the other shoe will drop.
The meaning you get while playing Puzzle Quest 3 it’s that designers are more interested in role-playing than puzzles (and more interested in monetization than either). It was designed from the wrong side. In a good puzzle RPG, the puzzle gameplay is where the action is; the RPG is a superstructure that invests the puzzles with meaning and stakes, and gives shape to your experience. But if the puzzle is boring – and it is in Puzzle Quest 3 – the rest of the game will be too.
If you fancy a shot of simple match-three puzzles with a flashing big number hunter on the screen, then I’d recommend the most immediately satisfying Puzzle instead, which has a pretty decent new nintendo switch edition. But this subgenre has gone to much more interesting places over the past 15 years. Here are five of the best puzzle RPGs you can play today.
One of the first Quest for puzzles clones out of the traps was this unlikely 2009 collaboration between Square Enix and peggle PopCap developer. It takes over the gameplay of PopCap’s Jeweled Twist and adds creature collection and leveling with ornate artwork and a typical Japanese RPG storyline. The smartest aspect of the game is a sleek combat mechanic that gets all of its tension and sense of danger from you trying to solve the board without wasting any moves, rather than waiting for a computer opponent to take his tower.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
For my money, Capybara clash of heroes – which first appeared on the Nintendo DS in 2009, then in a definitive “HD” release for PC and consoles in 2011 – is the greatest puzzle RPG ever made. It might be more accurate to call it a puzzle tactic or strategy game, as its combat system can easily rival the likes of Advanced Wars for refinement. The simple concept of stacking and combining color-coded units is extrapolated through a beautifully balanced ruleset across five factions and a substantial 30-hour campaign. It’s a shame publisher Ubisoft doesn’t offer the full re-release treatment, as this is a chilling classic.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is available on PC (To smokefree demo available) and Xbox (Xbox 360 version backwards compatible). Note: Some PC players reported that the game does not work well on Windows 10/11.
You have to build a boat
If you fancy something smaller and more frenetic, EightyEightGames’ 2015 sequel to its mobile hit 10,000,000 is tile-matched dungeon crawling stripped down to the bare essentials (with a bit of endless runner thrown in). Your character runs from left to right, encountering monsters and chests, as you frantically scroll through rows of tiles in an attempt to line up sequences to form attacks, keys, or buffs. You can’t lose, but you can be pushed off the screen, after which you return to your ship to upgrade and regroup. You have to build a boat is funny, fast and a lot of fun.
Developer Capybara once again proves its mastery of form and genius for quirky puzzle mechanics, with this color-matched, smashing dungeon dive from 2019. As in GyromancerYour real opponent is yourself: In an exquisite game of risk and reward, you try to string together ever-longer chains of color-coded monsters, while winning stacks, making even longer chains possible. grinding wheel is admittedly light on the RPG side of things, though it has an extensive item crafting system to help you get around and break its rules, as well as daily challenges, meta challenges, a boss rush mode , and more. The art and animation are grotesquely funny and the design is unimprovable. No one is better at this than Capy.
Gray Alien Games are true alien entertainers, former casual game developers who made an unlikely transition to Steam success with their delightful Jane Austen-inspired time-wasting, Solitary Regency. old enemyThe brooding dark fantasy theme isn’t all that charming. But it compensates for this by developing a sophisticated and finely balanced RPG system around the simple act of clearing sets of cards, with the solitaire hand dealt to you for dice rolls. That wouldn’t matter as much as if the tactile pleasure of clicking maps, refined by Gray Alien’s Jake Birkett over many years and games, weren’t so irresistible in and of themselves.