The original Puzzle Quest brought some much-needed depth to the puzzle genre. Players could assume the role of specific characters with specific skills and attributes, adding strategy to each battle. Puzzles were tied together via a story and map screens, with loot and stats for those who wanted it. The game was a hit, managing to bring together elements of RPG and puzzle games into one sweet package. D3Publisher and Marvel Entertainment have teamed up to deliver a Marvel-themed romp of match-up mayhem with Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign. Does this free-to-play game bring together the best parts of puzzles and powers, or is this something best left back in the silver age?
While the game does try to tie itself into the Marvel universe, and even a specific event, it falls flat in this department. The writing is so poor that it will enrage even the most casual of comic fans, and the characters’ abilities are never really taken advantage of in the puzzle setting. While there are indeed plenty of familiar faces to be found in the game’s various missions, it never really feels like you’re playing a Marvel game. Rather, what might come as excitement turns into disappointment as characters flounder in dialogue, stories that should be simple are complicated, and the use of the Marvel name is never really put to any great benefit. It would have seemed easy to make a game like Puzzle Quest fit into a fantastic comic book world, but this is not the case here. Those looking to see Iron Man go head-to-head with Juggernaut should look elsewhere.
Fortunately, the core gameplay hasn’t suffered too much. It’s obvious that the game was designed for mobile platforms, and that the recent move to the PC needed a bit more tinkering. The UI is slow and sloppy on PC, making the player feel like they are playing the game through a website rather than a full on proper stand alone executable. The graphics have a floating-image painted look, which can often work well for some games, but not here. Again, it just doesn’t come across as something of quality on the PC. If you can get over the sluggish controls and the so-so graphics, Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign offers some of the depth the series has become known for. Character parties can be put together based off of attributes and special abilities, allowing for some level of strategy in each round. Some characters focus more on doing damage while others focus on defensive abilities. Tooling your party to meet specific goals can often be rewarding when you completely destroy your opponent. Branching paths and rewards also offer some replay value. These aspects would be more interesting if it wasn’t for the flood of micro transactions found in the game.
Yes, this is a free-to-play game. So to some extent, one should always expect to find micro transactions, but this game is over the top with them. While you could easily play the game without using them and have a good time, it doesn’t want you to do that. Features seem to be included in the game for the sole purpose of you dropping cash on it. Want more character slots? Spend some cash! Want to level up specific skills on your characters? Spend some cash! Games like League of Legends and Tekken Revolution are much better games and only feature micro transactions as a way to offer the player more options, but they never create systems that can only really be built up by investing cash. This game offers one of the worst over-uses of micro transactions I’ve ever seen.
Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign has been out on iOS and Android for a few months now, and recently came out on Steam. While being free-to-play makes it harmless enough to check out, it is not one of the better games of this model out there. Tribes Ascend and Path of Exile are just a few examples of how this model can be applied to a game with great success. Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign gets 2 out of 5 stars. While most will get some passing enjoyment out of this puzzle game’s use of strategy and RPG elements, the sluggish UI and sub-par graphics, as well as the deluge of micro transactions, makes this one hard to recommend to even the most ardent of Marvel or Puzzle Quest fans.