Puzzle Quest is alright. Take a simple puzzle game that's shallow reading wise (Bejeweled) and throw in a bunch of RPG elements and a story, and you have a slightly more interesting way to play that shallow puzzle game for a much longer period of time. Let's not stray too far away from the point of this article; Knightfall 2. This game is a lot like Puzzle Quest. Fortunately, the core gameplay is better which is a great way to make an improvement to the puzzle/adventure/RPG genre.
To start we must consider that Nightfall 2's core gameplay falls under the endless puzzle mode type. This means there's not a fixed challenge for players to overcome. Everything from the keys, enemies, the exit gate, and the block arrangements are shuffled around every time you play. This is not to mention how special items, enemies, and blocks are randomly dropped dropped into the board. Because of this endlessly replayable design, the deeper you read, the less accurate your strategies become. Let's cover the core design.
- The game board is filled with colored blocks. Clicking on these blocks makes them disappear. All similarly colored blocks will also disappear if they touch the block you click on. To fill the hole new blocks fall in from the top of the screen. The primary way to manipulate the filled is by clearing blocks.
- The problem is, simply clearing blocks and having fresh ones fill in the gaps is a very limited way to manipulate the board. Another example of this limitation is exhibited in the puzzle game Meteos. Fortunately, the ROTATE mechanic changes the orientation of gravity in relation to the game board. By controlling the direction of gravity, you can control to a great degree how the known elements on the board shift around.
- Then there's the player character; the knight. Taking up a single block of space, the knight can only be moved indirectly (like a block). The knight has a limited amount of health. When the HP is completely drained it's game over. Centered around the knight there are 3 additional major design features that really shape the core gameplay.
- The Locked Door and Key. To complete most levels, the player must maneuver the Knight to pick up the key and then make it to the door. This design forces players to engage with the gravity and falling block design while focusing their actions around moving the Knight.
- To make things more interesting, enemies are randomly positioned throughout the board. Standing the Knight next to an enemy will cause the Knight to take damage. Furthermore, the enemies and bosses have various attack ranges, which adds another factor for players to consider when moving around the board. Without using special abilities, players can only kill enemies by dropping the Knight on top of them.
- Finally there's the AP meter. Basically, in addition to making smart moves when maneuvering the Knight around the board, the designers of Knightfall 2 wanted to privilege making groups of blocks disappear rather than singular blocks. This is where the AP meter comes into play. Every block you eliminate drains the AP meter. Clicking on block groups of 3 or more similar colored blocks cost 1 point. Clicking on pairs of similar blocks costs 3, and a single block costs 5. If you take the simplest and straightest path to your targets, you'll find yourself out of AP meter and losing HP fast.
- The decaying AP meter creates a decay dynamic that links the smartness or effectiveness of player actions with the Knight's health. This dynamic also functions as a limiter of time. The more poorly you play, the less time (turn based moves) you can do before expiring.
Now we can get to the heart of the matter: reading the board in Knightfall. The capacity to which one can read Knightfall determines how much of a puzzle game it is. After all, puzzles are logic challenges designed to conceal the optimal strategy behind complexities or require a layered understanding of concepts.
In a nutshell, the various formations of similar blocks create a wide variety of shapes. Because all the similarly touching blocks are eliminated simultaneously, the resulting blocks that fall and fill in the space change the relative positions of all the other elements on the board. This design is very much like the falling block design of Planet Puzzle League. Because eliminating blocks is the primary way to rearrange any element on the board, players have to be conscious of the shifting position of elements. Thinking ahead becomes an important element of reading. In addition, players have to decide between moving the Knight closer/farther from a target or moving the target to the Knight.
Reading the board as a fluid mosaic of tiles that can fall in 1 of 4 directions to create formations of grouped blocks that are advantageous to eliminate as well as dynamic in terms of the resulting "fall out" is the most interesting and engaging part of Knightfall 2. Still, you just don't have enough control of the board. The more elaborate strategies you attempt, the more random tiles will drop onto the board. The more random tiles, the greater the chance your plans will simply fail to work out. This is bad enough for Knightfall 2. Unfortunately, the excess of RPG elements and abilities really deconstructs or works against the little strategy there is in reading.
Everything from items that can restore HP and AP, being able to purchase items, and leveling up to increase HP and AP give the player enough suspended control to undermine the game by forgoing strategic moves for shallow "attack-attack-heal" like tactics. Because of the RPG elements, the depth of my strategies gradually waned as I level up and amassed funds. Shortly after the start of my adventure, the only thing that I had to look forward to for a quality strategic, puzzle challenge were the bosses (which are very creative).
On top of this, the penalty for death is very small if existent at all. No matter what level you die on in a "dungeon" you get the opportunity to simply try it again as many times as you like. When you game over, you get to come back with all of your items, experience points, and the energy in your Ability Bar. Sure the game is easier to complete because of this design, but this feature combined with the RPG elements removes most of the tension and therefore most of the meaningfulness of my actions.