modeps's Neopets Puzzle Adventure (Nintendo DS) review

Neopets Puzzle Adventure Review

Neopets Puzzle Adventure is what you get when you take the board game Reversi (Othello), combine it with a popular Nickelodeon license, and sprinkle in some lightweight RPG elements. While it is clear this game is marketed to a younger crowd, there are things that should make any fan of puzzle games give it a look.

When the game first boots up, you are asked to create your character by choosing from a list of twelve Neopets. You can change it's color and name but generally there's no difference in the pets other than appearance. After doing so, you are free to set out on your quest.

The story is told by characters conversing on the top DS screen and by navigating the game's maps using your stylus on the bottom. While the narrative is mostly forgettable (much like it's big brother Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warloards), and the maps are fairly pointless as the game progresses in a completely linear fashion, the confrontation system is quite excellent.

Battles in Neopets consist mainly of playing Reversi against an AI opponent. Each character gets a different color, either red or blue, and you take turns placing your coins on a 8x8 grid. By sandwiching your opponents pieces between yours, you 'take' their squares. When the board is filled, whoever has the most pieces wins.

To make this more compelling than simply playing Reversi over and over, the developers have done a few things. The first is the introduction of the Petpet system. Depending on your Neopet's experience level which raises as you play more, you'll get to bring up to five different Petpets to battle. These act like one time use magical spells that effect the board in specific ways. Some will destroy 3 random pieces, some will allow you to change your opponent's pieces to your own. They really add quite a level of complexity and strategy to the game, changing the focus from always trying to just get the corners.

To obtain the Petpets, you simply have to play through the game. There are 25 of them in the DS version to collect, each with different effects, but unfortunately there's no exploration involved to find them. If you want them all for multiplayer, you just have to progress through the story.

Additionally, while the game board is always an 8x8 grid, many encounters will see several squares on the grid blocked off from use causing players to further alter their strategy for attack.

Lastly if you setup combos, there is a chance in causing a 'Shockwave" which randomly targets an opponent's piece, changes it to your color, and if there are any of their pieces sandwiched as a result, those are converted as well. This bit of chaos can be frustrating, but also very helpful if you're hurting for position. All of these additions are well thought out and executed, creating a very dynamic way to play Reversi.

The leveling system is fairly weak. While you do obtain experience points during combat, they are simply a way to level up your character in order to bring more Petpets into battle. Most of the time when you level, there is no visible benefit removing any real feeling that you're growing your character. There are no stat points to dole out, nor are there any items to equip your character with.

Later on in the game there are sleight deviations from the typical Reversi-based encounter system. Playing one of three minigames, Neopets pits you against a clock and a score. These distractions help break up the flow and are also accessible directly from the game's menus if you just want to play them for a quick time waster.

The first is a memory clone where you are given a grid of cards upside down and you have to match the artwork. The next is a speed drawing game in a shooting gallery where cards will float across the top screen and you will have to mimic their design with the stylus below. Finally a neat clone of a puzzle game I've played long ago where you are presented with several different patterned blocks. If two blocks have the same symbol on them you can tap them with the stylus and they will be removed. If there were blocks above them, those will fall downwards to take the empty space. The object is to get rid of as many blocks as possible.

One interesting addition to the game for fans of the series is the unlockables. There are ten unique codes that are accessed by performing certain tasks such as clearing the game boards of all your opponent pieces, or achieving a certain number of experience points. These codes can be redeemed at Neopets website, acting like the Xbox Achievements to show off what you've done in game.

Puzzle Adventure also sports a head-to-head mode where you can take that Neopet you slaved over in the story mode and have it fight against your local friend. One addition that could have helped the staying power of this title would have been some sort of Nintendo WFC matchmaking support with an Elo style rating system.

I admittedly don't know the Neopets license at all, but I do know Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, which Neopets Puzzle Adventure gets it's inspiration (and lead developer) from. What Griptonite Games has done here is a fairly good, albeit lightweight entry into the very small RPG-meets-Puzzler genre. If you are looking around for an appetizer to tide you over before Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is released, Neopets Puzzle Adventure is the mozzarella stick you are looking for. Not a whole lot of substance, but still tasty.

The Good
  • Excellent core gameplay mechanics
  • Attractive graphics that make good use of the Neopets license
  • Plenty of game for your money

The Bad
  • No real RPG elements
  • Very linear

The Ugly
  • Leveling up and not having your character change at all
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