24 February 2008

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

I've never played an RPG before. The online versions confuse me, and I don't have the type of friends who would be willing to play the tabletop variety. So when I heard about Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, I thought it would be a good way for me to get a taste of computerized RPG gameplay in a format that I could understand.

Puzzle Quest first came to my attention as I was searching for DS games for my kids. Last year, it was on several "best games of 2007" lists. In addition to the DS version, this game has been ported to the PSP, XBox Live Arcade, the Wii, Windows PC, and the PS2. A mobile phone version is scheduled for some time this year and there are rumors of PS3 and Mac versions being created, as well. I decided to try out the PC version to see if it would be something I wanted to buy for my kids on the DS.

Puzzle Quest is a combination RPG/puzzle game, set in an established game world known as Warlords. The basic storyline is that an Undead army is running rampant through the land, threatening different towns. You play a knight serving the queen of one of the bigger territories. The main quest is to find out who is behind the Undead uprising, but there are also several side quests you perform to collect gold, learn new spells, and earn the allegiance of other races so that they will help you fight.

How do you fight? Well, that is where the puzzle part comes in. You battle by playing a Bejeweled-style game. Going into each game, there is a screen that tells you what spells and strengths your opponent has. You also have access to different spells and powers that are dependent on how much mana you collect. Matching three gems, for instance, gives you three or more bits of green mana. This adds a different dimension to the regular match-3 game rules because you aren't just trying to make as many matches as possible; you are looking for certain matches so you can collect enough mana to cast spells that will damage your opponent. It sounds simplistic, but it is strangely addictive.

So would I buy this for the kids? You bet! They have already been looking over my shoulder and asking when they could try it. I've played Bejeweled on my Treo 700p, which has a touch screen, so I know how much more enjoyable this type of game is when played with a stylus instead of a mouse. I think that Puzzle Quest will be a perfect addition to their DS game collection.

01 February 2008

No Child Left Inside

This morning I read an article about taxing videogames to pay for outdoor fitness programs. It doesn't apply to my state, at least not yet; I found that there are similar efforts in other states under the moniker No Child Left Inside. Getting kids moving is a good thing, but I can't decide whether I think this tax is a good or bad idea.


--The proposed tax is 1%, which would only be about $5 added to the price of the average game console or 50 cents to the average game cartridge.

--Schools across the country have already cut recess and physical education programs under the pressure to improve academic test scores. This would help to counteract that trend.

--Kids today don't get as much time to explore nature as their parents and grandparents did. How can you expect kids to want to live a "green" lifestyle if they don't spend any time enjoying the thing they are trying to save?


--Even though the proposed tax is only 1%, I understand why childless gamers don't want to pay it. As Chris Rock said in one of his stand-up routines (before he became a parent), people who chose not to have kids don't want to pay for the work that parents neglected to do.

--NM store owners are worried that more gamers will buy online to avoid the tax.

However, the main bone of contention with gamers seems to be the notion that TV and video games are the only obstacle to kids being more active. Some kids are just not interested in athletic pursuits. I know that when I was in grammar school, we didn't have the internet or TVs in every room with 100 channels to watch. Did I play outside? Only when my parents pushed me. My parents would drive us to the park and lock me out of the car to force me to get some fresh air and activity. I would just go sit on a bench and pout. You can drag the kids to the outdoor games, but you can't make them all play.