Marvel Puzzle Quest — Issue 41

A mar­velous puz­zle journey

Ah, qui­et, placid Puz­zle Quest. We’ve seen many ver­sions of the clas­sic match-three game and yet, some­how, some way there’s a unique spin added that catch­es the eye and delights. Mar­vel Puz­zle Quest, the mobile jug­ger­naut from Demi­urge Stu­dios, is a spec­tac­u­lar extra move-laden free-to-play boun­ty for on the go.

I’ve played at least two ver­sions of Puz­zle Quest and they’re decent. Hav­ing that his­to­ry helps with con­cepts and under­stand­ing some of the intri­ca­cies of MPQ, but the base match-three con­cept is not hard, though. Your goal is to match three or more like-col­ored gems (green, black, yel­low, blue, red, pur­ple, and sil­ver) to dam­age your oppo­nent until they are downed. You can have a team of one to three char­ac­ters who will take turns match­ing gems against an AI-con­trolled team. From time to time, match con­di­tions vary — espe­cial­ly depend­ing on the mode or in-game event, but the main goal is gen­er­al­ly to take out your oppo­nent as clean­ly as possible. 

The Mar­vel com­po­nent comes in through char­ac­ters to col­lect from the sto­ried com­ic book com­pa­ny. Your team and the AI’s team will be com­posed of Mar­vel char­ac­ters rang­ing from the obscure to the most recent MCU-themed ver­sions, ranked in a five-star sys­tem. Char­ac­ters have three spe­cial moves — some­times with sub­sets and pas­sives — that must be unlocked. How you obtain them is where the pay aspect comes into play. Pric­ing can be steep when you’re try­ing to build a decent ros­ter, but it’s no worse than some of the oth­er options out in the mar­ket­place right now, and it has a more sat­is­fy­ing feel to com­plet­ing a col­lec­tion here. As a well-known Mar­vel doc­tor­al can­di­date, I have had a lot of fun pulling togeth­er a ros­ter with MPQ. I know most, if not all, of the char­ac­ters and their vari­ants (thanks, Loki!), and it’s decent work to keep track of who I have earned or am still hunt­ing down. In the year that I’ve been play­ing, I’ve cre­at­ed a spread­sheet that’s updat­ed dai­ly to track where my col­lec­tion stands. It’s that deep.

The depth of the puz­zle engine is also sur­pris­ing. It’s not uncom­mon to strate­gize moves, match­es and board set­up to max­i­mize poten­tial dam­age in a fight. The AI is well-bal­anced, enough that I rarely feel as though it’s unfair. I also very sel­dom lose match­es now that my ros­ter is about 80 per­cent com­plete. And in terms of ros­ter-build­ing, I also tend to get my fair share of rare and pow­er­ful five-star char­ac­ters. MPQ could eas­i­ly be a mon­ey sink, but it’s avoid­ed with a lot of devel­op­er bal­anc­ing behind the scenes.

The bal­anc­ing act also extends to the dif­fer­ent modes, and it’s a job well done. There are quite a few events to choose from at any giv­en time, and they’re fun to mill around in to improve your skills and earn rewards. You can join an Alliance, which is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. The ben­e­fits from join­ing a sol­id squad can mean get­ting a rare char­ac­ter for free, or oth­er perks you might have to pay for nor­mal­ly. The modes are nice and pro­vide a change of pace. There’s a dai­ly mode fea­tur­ing Dead­pool with dif­fer­ent require­ments; Ver­sus mode, where you face off against AI-con­trolled avatars of real teams; Puz­zle Gaunt­let, where there are solu­tion-ori­ent­ed puz­zles against teams; Sto­ry events, where pre-deter­mined sto­ries play out through match­es and cut scenes; and, time-lim­it­ed events, where you and pos­si­bly your alliance join forces to take down a boss.

Demi­urge Stu­dios also does a great job with how the game looks, as well. MPQ has some of the best mobile graph­ics of any­thing on the mar­ket right now, and the use of actu­al run com­ic book cov­ers to rep­re­sent char­ac­ters is fan­tas­tic. The back­ground art also looks amaz­ing and crisp. Demi­urge out­did them­selves and for a sev­en-year-old game, it still looks sol­id and well done. The sound­track is nice, but it’s noth­ing to write home about. I usu­al­ly keep the music turned off, but it’s by no means terrible.

If you’re into Mar­vel, you’re going to love this. You’re going to drop a lot of mon­ey try­ing to build your ros­ter, and you’re going to have fun doing it. Even if you’re not into Mar­vel that much, you’re going to find some val­ue in this. It’s a good time wrapped up in a mobile game that plays well and pro­vides a lot in small pack­age. It’s a mar­velous play no mat­ter how you look at it.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017 issue

Puz­zle Bob­ble’s break­out hit

Bub­ble Bob­ble isn’t super famous last I checked, but I learned who Bub and Bob were by the time I fin­ished their first puz­zle effort for the Super NES, the mid-90s appro­pri­ate­ly named Bust-A-Move. 

There’s much fun and mirth to be had in the bub­ble-pop­ping title. There’s not much sto­ry oth­er than Bub and Bob are pop­ping bub­bles to save a friend, who is trapped at the end (lev­el 100). Once their friend is saved, that’s it. But, that’s assum­ing you can make it that far. 

Bust-A-Move is incred­i­bly sim­ple to play but hard to mas­ter. The con­cept is easy to under­stand: aim a launch­er and match three like-col­ored bub­bles. The bub­bles will fall off the play­ing field, clear­ing space and rows so that you can work toward clear­ing fur­ther bub­bles. After a cer­tain num­ber are cleared, the ceil­ing of the well low­ers, inch­ing clos­er to a vis­i­ble line. Once the line is crossed with a bub­ble, the game is over. Basi­cal­ly, it’s reverse Tetris with bub­bles instead of lines. The trick­i­ness in mas­ter­ing the game comes in pop­ping the bub­bles. There are dif­fer­ent tech­niques to achiev­ing the results that you want, but it real­ly comes down to know­ing how to aim and learn­ing the fabled bankshot off the side of the well.

With its sim­plic­i­ty in learn­ing, Bust-A-Move quick­ly dis­tin­guish­es itself as fun to play. I request­ed the game for my 14th birth­day, and I’ve had a blast play­ing the orig­i­nal since. There are oth­er games in the series, but this one is the best out of all of the sequels and spin­offs of the series. The con­trols aren’t too stiff, though some­times I have com­plaints about the par­tic­u­lar way a bub­ble bounces or sticks a lit­tle too eas­i­ly to the first bub­ble it comes close to. Yet, the con­trols aren’t horrible. 

The sim­ple theme also shows in the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move is one of the bright­est and cutest games I’ve ever played. The col­ors pop and while you’re using col­ored bub­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­fere with the back­ground graph­ics, which could make for a con­fus­ing play field.

Bust-A-Move also gets a nod for its atten­tion paid to oth­er modes such as Chal­lenge and the two-play­er bub­ble pop­ping. Chal­lenge is fun and a good test of skills: You’re tasked with pop­ping as many bub­bles as you can before it’s game over. It’s hard to pop a lot if you’re new to the game, but as your skills progress, you can and will see a dif­fer­ence in how long you man­age to last. The two-play­er mode is fun also, because you can either play against the com­put­er or against anoth­er human play­er. Any game that gives me the option to play two-play­er against the com­put­er auto­mat­i­cal­ly gets a nod because that injects longevi­ty into a title immediately.

There’s a decent amount of depth to Bust-A-Move and it cer­tain­ly makes for an inter­est­ing puz­zle dis­trac­tion on the SNES. It’s worth explor­ing the bub­ble-pop­ping world with the orig­i­nal bub­ble eliminator.

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017 issue

When Tetris and Dis­ney col­lide

Mess­ing with an old and uni­ver­sal­ly loved favorite such as Tetris is a risky propo­si­tion. You can get it right or mess it up hor­ri­bly, where it is for­ev­er known as the “messed up ver­sion of Tetris.” Luck­i­ly, Mag­i­cal Tetris Chal­lenge by Cap­com man­ages to dodge that label and add a few ele­ments to the main game to refresh an old­er title.

Mag­i­cal Tetris is, at its core, a fun game with lots of charm to spread around. There are mul­ti­ple modes to choose from and the vari­ety helps the replay fac­tor long after the nov­el­ty of com­bo­ing wears off. The sto­ry mode is the oth­er mode most played at GI, and is based off the new Mag­i­cal Tetris mode. While I’m not fond of the cliffhang­er by dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el method, the sto­ry is ser­vice­able and moves the action for­ward with a nice added Dis­ney touch. Main­stays such as Mick­ey, Min­nie, Don­ald and Goofy fill out the cast, though you can only play as these four.

Mag­i­cal Tetris earns its bread and but­ter in the way it builds on the Tetris for­mu­la. With Tetris in the name and designed to appeal to a mass audi­ence using that, Mag­i­cal Tetris starts out with the basics: Cre­ate and clear lines using sev­en let­ter-shaped pieces. Clear four lines and you get a Tetris.

Ah, but here­in lies the addi­tions to Mag­i­cal Tetris and where the basics end and advanced play begins: For every line cleared, a small amount of ener­gy is added to a mag­ic meter. Fill up the mag­ic meter and you get what we’ve termed at GI as a break­down: All pieces restruc­ture to cre­ate a neat space and a large por­tion of the well where your pieces fall is wiped clean. Also, clear­ing lines cre­ates com­bos, which can be coun­tered until a piece is shaped 10 by 10. Com­bos and coun­ters cre­ates a back and forth, dur­ing which odd­ly shaped pieces are cre­at­ed and fall into the play field. By set­ting up the pieces in a decent shape in your well, you can achieve what is called a pen­tris, or five lines cleared
simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

Com­bo­ing and coun­ter­ing makes the game­play fun and adds an increas­ing lev­el of com­pet­i­tive­ness and urgency to every match. Even if you’re not the most Tetris-com­pe­tent gamer, Mag­i­cal Tetris does an excel­lent job invit­ing all skill lev­els in to learn and get bet­ter. The basics are quick­ly explained and the advanced tech­niques are made plain as you go along. That helps in the fran­tic atmos­phere of a spir­it­ed two-play­er human match, where any­thing and usu­al­ly every­thing can happen.

The game shines in its visu­als, which ben­e­fit from that Dis­ney touch. The game is bright and col­or­ful and designed in the way of Dis­ney games and ani­ma­tion, mean­ing it’s top-notch through and through. The graph­ics are still good for an N64-era game and haven’t aged bad­ly. The sound­track has aged well, too, and is still one of the best of the era. Each character’s stage is mem­o­rably themed and stands out enough for you to remem­ber it well after your game is over.
Hav­ing played the major­i­ty of the Tetris spin­offs and cre­ations out on the mar­ket for the past 30 years, I need to have some­thing that push­es me to play. Mag­i­cal Tetris suc­ceeds in adding to the Tetris for­mu­la just enough to buy its way in to my library and stick around through charm and abil­i­ty. This is an excel­lent Tetris spin job.