By Jared Cornelius
By all accounts Marvel Puzzle Quest should be the Reece's Peanut butter Cup of gaming for me. A tactical grid based matching game that takes elements of Bejeweled or Candy Crush Saga, and mixes it with Marvel Comic characters sounds like everything I would've wanted in a video game. Sadly, that is not the case as Marvel Puzzle Quest and I have a love-hate relationship, and it has nothing to do with graphics or gameplay, but the games free to play system.
For those not in the know, the original Puzzle Quest was released in the winter of 2007 by D3 Publisher, being released on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable. The premise was simple, a match three puzzle game where you chose a Dungeons and Dragons style class and character, and then proceed on quests battling Orcs, Wyvern, and other fantasy fare. The game's simple to learn rules and hard to master curve made it an instant classic on my Nintendo DS. I kid you not, by the time I was finished Puzzle Quest, my DS screen had permanently been scratched into a grid. Several games followed, including Galatrix and Puzzle Quest 2, but neither game hit me as hard as the original.
Marvel Comics on the other hand has been one of the biggest comic book publishers of the last sixty years, coming into an even more main stream awareness, due to the highly profitable line of Marvel cinematic movies this last decade. But you guys knew that already. It's no secret to my friends that I'm a huge Marvel fan to boot, so it seems like this would've been a match three made in heaven.
The ugly truth about Marvel Puzzle Quest is that it's a free to play game, essentially meaning there is zero barrier to entry. Developers and publishers try to make money by selling items, currency, or characters, in most cases all three and all costing real world money. Marvel has been an offender in the past with their frustrating Avengers Alliance game, in which gold, energy, and Shield points all had to be earned or purchased. Marvel Puzzle Quest continues that tradition with needing Hero Points to learn attacks for your characters, or unlocking slots for new characters to exist, giving you a finite roster based on how much you're willing to spend. An energy called Iso-8 is required to level up your characters, and perhaps the most evil of all Hero Tokens, which will unlock a random hero of various star levels. One being common and three being rare, giving you no guarantee that you will get the character you want, and will often end up with endless doubles.
All of these resources can be earned but at the cost of your time, the most precious being Hero Points, as they have the most all around use, but are sold from 2 to 99 dollar packs. I should make it clear that one thing Marvel Puzzle Quest does well is rewarding you, granting you a prize at the start of everyday, and rewarding you after every successful victory with something. As of writing this review, I have over a hundred Hero Tokens, but that ends up being more frustration as I have no Hero Points to unlock new slots for a character I don't have. This compounds with unlocked characters expiring within 7 days if not claimed like and aggressive lost and found.
The game's awful free to play mechanics actually obscure an excellent puzzle game. The game play is as strong as any match game available across any platform. You begin by choosing a team of three characters, heroes or villains and take the fight to the Marvel Universe. Each character has three special abilities that correspond to the colored gems on the board. Thor, for instance does the most damage when matching red, yellow, or green gems. The more gems matched, the more damage your character does to the other team. The gems you match are also collected for special attacks, ranging from electric countdown arrows, to summoning demons.
Marvel Puzzle Quest's best feature leads to arguably its worst. After each battle, depending on how much damage your characters take, you'll need to rest them for a period of time. Doesn't sound like a big deal right? My level 40 Thor takes over three hours to heal after losing a match! But wait, Marvel Puzzle Quest has a solution, buy a single use heal item that costs real world money to play more! This is really my main complaint, my time with this game is being dictated by the publisher like a fussy mother pulling the plug on the TV at 9PM so you don't stay up. Currently the game is retelling its own version of the Dark Reign story line with 5 chapters in the prologue. The story isn't much to speak of, giving a watered down version of Dark Reign, told through angry faced character portraits. Various daily and weekly events also stretch the story out asking you to pit a team against other players, or computer controlled AI for more rewards.
All said and done, I've played Marvel Puzzle Quest since its release and have enjoyed my time with it, but it's hard to ignore the obnoxious free to play mechanics. Had this been a retail release on the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita, I happily would've paid 30 to 40 dollars for the experience without shackles. I want to make it clear that I haven't given Marvel a dime for this game, and they won't get any money out of me with these insidious cash grab tactics. Fans of puzzle games can find a more enjoyable title in the original Puzzle Quest, which is still available on Amazon, and digitally on Steam. Marvel fans beware, as the allure of your favorite characters might lead you down the path of paying money to play. If like me, you fall under its siren song, play once or twice a day, but no more than that.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who thinks he's funny. If you'd like to contact him and make dumb jokes, tweet @John_Laryngitis