For the most part, Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, by its product description, should have been considered as nothing more than a casual game, a simple timewaster that you can carry and play around with on the go. Puzzle Quest is your typical match-3 gem grid puzzle game. It should run along the same lines of popular games such as Candy Crush Saga or the classic Bejeweled, but with the addition of card collecting, deck building and its own personal flair of Marvel add-ons.
Most people would be able to tell that something as simple as that can be really addictive. True, games with simple premises like these prove to be even more habit-forming than most top-of-the-line console games. And with Marvel as your source material, any fanboy would be skipping sleep and meals for a game like this.
I’m not saying all that is true. It’s just that there’s one more modifier that needs to be added to my current range of descriptions for it that should give anyone in the know a spine-tingling shudder: free to play.
The gameplay in a nutshell is that you play in a gem grid with three characters from your roster against three characters on the opposing side. You try and match those gems in a straight line of at least three of the same color to perform damage. The more gems you pop in a single move, the greater damage you cause. And depending on the color of gems that you match and pop, corresponding meters for your characters’ skills fill, and when it does, it allows you to perform a character’s signature skill. Like, for example, meaty attack characters like Ironman or Thor have skills that activate when you fill up the red or yellow gem meters, so when you fill those out, you can activate either characters’ skills.
Character skills vary from powerful direct damage to massive or selective map-wide gem popping to meter management, to name a few. There are a lot of fun combos to pull off, so managing your roster is vital in optimizing tactical gameplay. A round is won when you have successfully defeated all characters in the opposing side.
Simple, right? That’s all there is to it. A game with such a simple goal with a bit of tactical gameplay thrown should be already be the perfect package for a simple pick-me-up. The fact that it’s Marvel does nothing but sweeten the deal even more. At least, it shouldn’t. There is nothing wrong with the gameplay or the graphics of Puzzle Quest itself. In fact, it looks fantastic, and it plays even better. You don’t see a lot of games that have such a wide range of characters with full body character art readily available in-game.
All characters have a selection of costumes (which denotes the rarity of their card), and each has its own full profile art, headshot, and awesome-looking super-imposing full arts and character sounds when they perform their skills – complete with special effects. Costumes aren’t just for aesthetics either, as varying rarities give each character a different move set, so each costume feels like you’re playing a different character altogether. Also, each card or costume is represented by a comic book cover wherein that incarnation of that character is known for. Eye candy for the dedicated fans.
So what’s the catch? Something must be wrong with it, right? Well, what makes this game less than desirable is that Marvel will try to sell everything to you like crazy. In-game items, needed expansions, and characters – they will all cost you real money sooner or later. The game was designed to be very enticing and addicting, and once you’re at the point where you’re hooked, you will realize that you would need to fork over some cash to continue the addiction.
You are only allowed a default 4 character limit per roster – something annoying as there will be times wherein you’ll be getting a lot of characters and you’d need to pay to increase your roster slots. If you don’t have enough space for new characters when you get them, they get stored in a prize box, and they have an expiration date.
So if you manage to get a rare character, but can’t afford to keep him, you’d either have to sell one of your existing, trained heroes to free up some space, or you can just say bye-bye. Also, if your character gets damaged in fights, you’d have to wait real time for them to heal. This acts as their time-cost energy system.
That may seem fair and realistic to the premise of the game, as the characters need to rest, but my real gripe is it takes longer for characters with more HP to heal. You’d think that the higher the level you are, the more convenient he or she is to use, but no.
To fix this, you can buy a heal-all item but at a cost of real money. You’d also need to buy Hero points which allow you to recruit new heroes or buy covers to train your existing ones. You don’t even get a gallery mode to view all the covers you collected, so selling on really hits you where it hurts. But it’s not all bad. All these resources can be earned in-game, but would require a lot more time and patience redoing missions and joining events. The game also rewards you with said resources and character covers at the start of each day.
Marvel has been a repeat offender of this free-to-play-but-will-continue-to-harass-you-to-pay-up-so-you-can-enjoy shenanigan, most notably with their Facebook RPG, Marvel Avengers Alliance. Puzzle Quest is merely following tradition. And I guess it’s the same with most Marvel promotions these days, like their movies. It’s really fun and amazing at a glance, but once you look closely, you’d notice the glaring plotholes and obvious setups for sequels and spinoffs, just so they could sell more.
Since, they’re Marvel and we are but loyal fans who will buy their stuff no matter what, they will sell. It’s just easy to overlook because of hype. Except in this case because of its simplicity. Despite my rants and complains, I still play the game, though. The free to play mechanics are glaringly annoying, but the puzzle game itself is excellent. I haven’t actually paid for anything here, and I don’t think will. It’s a seductive hook, this one. I recommend it, but beware, fanboy, you have been warned.Related: Marvel, Marvel Puzzle Quest, Mobile, Review