What fun is it to win if you don’t know who you’re beating?
Players: 1 player
Platform: XBLA (reviewed), PSN, PC
Developer: Pieces Interactive
Release Date: 2009-12-16
Puzzlegeddon is an interesting hybrid of a puzzle game and a competitive multiplayer game. As in most puzzle games, players are given a game board filled with multicolored blocks. You shift the blocks around until five or more of the same color are touching at which point you “harvest” them as a combo to fill up a corresponding colored meter. When a meter is 1/3 full, you can use a special ability (attack, defend, support, or disrupt) or wait until the meter fills up more for a stronger ability.
The puzzle part of Puzzlegeddon is everything a good puzzler game should be. The basic concept is very simple and easy to get into but planning and patience pay off as bigger combos fill up the meters faster. It has the satisfying learning curve of a classic puzzle: the more that you play the more patterns you begin to see, and the easier it becomes to get those large combos. It’s unfortunate that the actual puzzle board is so small compared to everything else on the screen. Most of the space is taken up by the avatars of you and your opponents; the puzzle itself is treated as a secondary concern. But then it is a secondary concern as far as the game's intentions go because despite its title this game isn’t about the puzzles, it’s about the competition.
Your goal in every game it to defeat your opponents. The puzzle board is just a resource to gain more abilities. There’s an impressive depth to the competitive strategy as every power seems tailored to be used at a specific moment. For example, if you attack with a missile, the opponent can use a counter-attack to shoot it down, but if you use a support power at the right time to boost your missile, you can disable their counter-attack, clearing the way for your own. These competitive elements work fine on their own, but when they’re added to the puzzling elements, the whole game starts to fight against itself.
For one, there’s no communal puzzle board, the board you see is yours alone so there’s no way of knowing what your opponents are doing and no way to plan accordingly. All your abilities are used blindly. The lack of interaction with your enemies also distances you from them; they appear as nothing more than a little avatar at the edge of the screen that seems to use a random ability at a random time. They may as well be controlled by A.I. Puzzlegeddon is a competitive online multiplayer game, but it’s still very single-player focused, which goes against the very nature of competitive games. What fun is it to win if you don’t know who you’re beating?
The games are very slow paced especially in the beginning. This allows you time to create combos on the puzzle board, but it makes for a boring competition since nothing happens the first few minutes of every round. In addition, the meters never seem to fill up fast enough and the attacks do so little damage that these slow rounds can drag on for a long time.
Every ability must be used at a specific moment in order to maximize its effectiveness, but as the meters fill and you gain new abilities, you lose the ones that you had. If you want to save an ability for later, you can’t make combos with its corresponding color block, which makes the puzzling part that much harder. And because the rounds move at such a slow pace that perfect moment may never come, so you’re better off using any ability as soon as you get it, which completely voids the strategic element of the multiplayer. If part of my competitive strategy is to not play the puzzle or vice versa then obviously these two aspects of the game are not integrated well.
In addition to multiplayer, which is the central focus of the game, is a single-player mode called Poison Peril. In it, the player is tasked with completing specific challenges within 10 moves, but if a “poison” block becomes part of your combo you’ll lose a move and must complete the next challenge with only nine. Considering there are a total of 80 challenges, little mistakes can add up quickly.
Without the needless urgency of multiplayer, players are free to treat Puzzlegeddon as a normal puzzle game. You’re free to take your time with it, to consider your options, to plan ahead and try and get the most out of every move, and Poison Peril rewards such thinking since we only have a set amount of moves to begin with. This is easily the best part of the game specifically because there’s no competition. Adding competitive multiplayer to this kind of puzzle game adds a layer of conflicting strategy, so as long the two are together, neither one can shine.
In trying to combine competition and puzzles, it’s clear that Puzzlegeddon is on the right track since at least part of it, the puzzle itself, is very fun. Unfortunately, that fun part is consigned to such a small role in the larger game that it never really gets the chance to be seen.