Neopets Puzzle Adventure tries to tinker with Puzzle Quest’s main formula, but the result is an uninspired and ultimately unbalanced title that quickly becomes overwhelmingly tedious.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure is a game that combines elements from Puzzle Quest and Othello and even though this idea may seem quite appealing at first, it quickly becomes dull and overly repetitive. The first Puzzle Quest felt original because it featured the unlikely marriage of two very dissimilar elements (a Bejeweled style of gameplay and some role-playing elements,) but that game in particular was also engaging as it was varied and its basic gameplay was well balanced. The main problem with Neopets Puzzle Adventure is that the inclusion of special abilities pretty much ruins the experience of playing Othello, making matches simple and unsatisfying.
The title features a surprisingly long main campaign, but before starting it, the player is required to create a new character. The character creation process is fairly simple, mainly because the game is undoubtedly children-oriented. In fact, there are only a few options to select which not only change the main aspect of the creatures (called Neopets,) but also their basic stats, which include strength, movement and defense. Besides naming the creature and selecting its gender (the only difference is that female critters have long eyelashes,) its color can also be chosen which also adds a bonus to the statistics. The whole process of creating a character only exists as a way of window dressing as all these cosmetic choices don’t affect the gameplay in any meaningful way.
Apart from this, the game does have a story, albeit a pretty simple and boring one which I won’t write here as it doesn’t add anything new or significant. Let’s just say that there’s an icon in a huge map which represents your main character and you can move it around to undertake various main and sidequests or to interact with other creatures, enemies or characters.
The core gameplay of the game is basically Othello (also commonly known as Reversi). You place tokens on a board in order to turn over as many opponent’s pieces as possible and the player with the most points at the end of the match is the winner. Additionally, another condition to win the match is to flip enough tokens so that the opponent doesn’t have any of his/her own, and quickly enough you’ll be able to exploit this to your benefit. This unfair advantage is made possible by the inclusion of abilities in the form of petpets, which work exactly like the spells in Puzzle Quest. Petpets are basically wild creatures that roam around in the map, if you fight them and activate a special device before defeating them, they can be captured. Once you capture them and tame them, they may be used in battle and some of them have devastating abilities that pretty much break the game. I was able to quickly defeat all the last bosses by using the ability of the first petpet that was given to me at the beginning of the game. Petpets can also be trained (by engaging in a simple matching minigame) in order to improve their abilities and to decrease the number of turns that it takes for them to charge the aforementioned abilities. There are also items like weapons, helmets, amulets and exotic food that provide bonus stats or let you use additional abilities that make some of the battles much easier.
The single player also features many other modes like instant action, minigames (which include taming, training, researching, cooking and crafting,) random battles, inventory and unlockables. Although most of them are pretty standard and self-explanatory, it should be noted that the unlockables include achievements and virtual prizes that can’t be accessed through the game. Instead, the player is required to visit to the game’s official website and enter a long code to see what they have unlocked. This is a questionable and woefully inadequate way of doing something that should have been much simpler, especially taking into account that the game is recommended for children. On the other hand, the multiplayer portion of the game lets you play against human players both locally and online, but considering the unbalanced nature of the game, most matches against others will rely on luck rather than ability, so I don’t think this mode will hold your interest for a very long time.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure isn’t without its serious flaws. The game is too easy for adults, but may be impenetrable for little kids, even when they are the obvious targeted audience. Most quests quickly become way too repetitive as you are required to do the same things over and over again, so even when the enemies look different, the nature of the combats remains the same. The graphics are crisp and the game looks sharp most of the time, but the design of the different locations and characters lack originality. The story is more an intrusive element rather than a suitable complement, as a consequence, the main plot hurts the pacing of the combats and most players will skip the lackluster and painfully slow scenes. Finally, the sidequests are lifeless and feel disjointed from the main story so there’s little to no incentive to do all the extra missions.
In conclusion, Neopets Puzzle Adventure is not a very good game. Most of its features diminish the very few things that are actually good (like the core gameplay mechanics,) but the inclusion of unbalanced abilities, repetitive main quests, obtuse side missions, a lousy story, overwhelmingly tedious combats and dumbed down role-playing elements, definitely hamper the experience. It simply would have been great to play a game that adds an interesting twist to a classic board game like Reversi. Unfortunately, Neopets Puzzle Adventure is not that game.