Here’s a little tip for you: If you ever see a review of a mobile game on this site, it’s safe to assume one of two things: it’s either a lot of fun or so terrible that I feel a moral obligation to warn everyone not to get it, even if it’s free. Thankfully, the free-to-play, fantasy-themed match-3 puzzle game Puzzle Quest 3 (iOS, Android, PC) is decidedly in the former category.
Like other match-3 puzzle games,
Puzzle Quest 3 has you trying to line up three or more of the same kind of gem, which then removes them from the board. Simple, right?
Yeah, it is, but Puzzle Quest 3 is more involved than that, and in ways that make it very different from your typical match-3 puzzle game.
For starters, you’re not finding matches to fulfil some condition, like “earn 1000 points” or “clear 5 sets of emeralds.” You’re doing it because you’re in the fight of your life, and the only way to defeat your enemy is to line up some gems. And fast.
Which is the other thing. You only have a few seconds to make as many matches as you can before the clock runs out.
Puzzle Quest 3 also doesn’t clear the gems you’ve lined up until your turn is over. They also have to form a line; you can’t put four gems together to form a square.
Though, on the flipside, Puzzle Quest 3 will let you move diagonally. Even better, you don’t have to line up all the gems you want to line up with a single move. If you line up three of the same gem, and there’s a fourth nearby (and you have the time), you can add that to the line as well. And a fifth or even a sixth. You can even line up a seventh, the number of gems going across the board horizontally, which briefly stuns your enemy and gives you two turns in a row.
More importantly, the more gems you line up, the stronger your attacks will be. Which is especially helpful when you’re fighting someone tough (I’m looking at you, you Orc bastard).
Lining up gems in Puzzle Quest 3…
doesn’t just attack your enemies, though. It also recharges your magic spells, which can then be used to remove specific gems from the board so you can line other ones up better, to heal thyself, or, uh, okay, attack your enemies.
These spells also don’t count as your turn, and you can cast multiple ones in a row before you start clearing the board.
Puzzle Quest 3 even pulls mechanics from other kind of fantasy games. Specifically, adventure / role-playing ones. For starters, there are some side quests, though they feel more like challenge missions, since the enemies you face are tougher than those you’ve been fighting in the main game at the point these side quests unlock.
Similarly, this loot can be used to improve the quality and effectiveness of your weapon, armor, and magic spells. Though unlike Diablo III, et al., you don’t have to constantly run back to town to sell off any extra swords you might find.
You also have companions in Puzzle Quest 3.
Though unlike Dogmeat and the other sidekicks in Fallout 4, all they ever did for me was open some treasure chests when I didn’t have the right kind of key.
There’s even a conversation mechanic in Puzzle Quest 3. Granted, it doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t potentially impact the story the way similar mechanics do in such RPGs as, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition. But it does make you feel like your choice of character might actually matter.
Sadly, the operative word in the previous sentence is “might.” See, while Puzzle Quest 3 has five different characters to choose from — Assassin (silent but deadly), Berserker (fighters with anger issues), Necromancer (wielders of dark magic), Paladin (holy cow they’re deadly), and Shaman (angels of mercy…and whatever the opposite of mercy is) — the game doesn’t do a great job in explaining how these characters are different. More importantly, after playing for hours as the Assassin, I can’t really see how they could be different. Certainly not as much as my cheeky descriptions make them out to be.
This, sadly, is not the only problem I had with Puzzle Quest 3. While it fully embraces its Tolkien- / Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy theme — hence why you fight orc, goblins, and giant spiders — the story it follows is rather generic. You’re walking along, minding your own business, when you get attacked. So, you defend yourself, and in the process, impress a fair maiden who leads you to a nearby city. There, you pick up odd jobs that invariably get you attacked again and blah blah blah I don’t care, just BRING ME AN ORC SO I MAY SLAY HIM!!
A far bigger problem — albeit one that won’t annoy everyone — is how the puzzles aren’t, well, all that puzzling. Despite the name, Puzzle Quest 3 doesn’t offer as much of an intellectual challenge as, say, Candy Crush Friends Saga. This is in part because the clock doesn’t start counting down until you make your first move, which gives you an opportunity to figure out a plan before you begin, and in part because, as I mentioned, the gems you line up don’t disappear until your turn is over, so the board is largely static during your turn, which eliminates any unpredictability.
Despite this, though,
Puzzle Quest 3 still manages to be challenging because while you can take time and study the board, you probably won’t do it for long. Certainly not long enough to figure out every move you should do. At least that was my experience. No matter how much I forced myself to look at every gem in relation to every other gem, and strategize the best moves, I still found myself racing against the clock to make a match I hadn’t noticed during prep, and then noticing one other match I hadn’t noticed before.
But maybe that’s just me.
Some people will also complain about the commerce aspects of Puzzle Quest 3. Y’know, people who’ve never played a free-to-play game before. And while sure, it would be nice if this was actually free, that’s not very realistic now is it. Game developers gotta eat.
That said, as mobile games with microtransactions go, Puzzle Quest 3 is hardly the worst offender when it comes to pushing those aspects. While you can spend real cash to buy gold pieces, upgrade resources, and treasure chest keys, you actually earn a decent amount of this stuff just by playing.
More importantly, it doesn’t have ads to pop up at random times, or constantly, nor does it limit how long you can play for without paying for it. Trust me, there are far greedier free-to-play games out there.
Though I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of how the treasure chests you get in Puzzle Quest 3 — and you get a lot of them — require a key to open, keys you have to earn (or buy), as opposed to just being unlocked like loot crates usually are in these kind of games. Sure, you can get your companion to open them (though they take their sweet time), and you do sometimes get keys when you defeat an enemy, but it’s not the same as just being able to open a chest when you get it. Just ask anyone who was ever a kid who had a birthday.
Despite not being as much of a key party as I would’ve liked,
and despite not being as intellectually challenging as other games of this kind, Puzzle Quest 3 still captured and held on to my attention far longer than any other puzzle game or mobile game has in years. Since, well, Candy Crush Friends Saga in 2017. And that makes this a quest worth completing.