It’s a bizarre one, this. Initially it gives the impression of being a typical RPG, asking you to choose a character class – Warrior, Wizard, Skank, etc – and give him (or her) a silly medieval name. Then an overhead map appears that you can move around, which includes a castle that can be built up, shops where you can buy new weapons, shields and other magical trinkets and a guild to select quests. So far so Final Fantasy-ish.
But instead of having a turn based battle system as you would find in many an RPG, fighting a foe is done by winning a puzzle game that’s uncannily similar to the magnificent Zoo Keeper. It’s akin to sitting down with a new racing game, then choosing a car then customising itâ€¦but rather than racing around a track what instead ensues is a variant of Tetris.
In Zoo Keeper the aim was to match up three or more of the same animal by swapping tiles around. Here things are slightly more complex, with different coloured mana balls, spiky purple things that bestow experience points and, most importantly, skulls that damage your opponent to match up. The mana balls fill up your magic meters, and once full a special attack can be performed, ranging from stunting your opponent so that they miss a go to making a whole line vanish. Whoever runs out of health first looses; stronger weapons will do more damage when getting rid of a set of skulls, decent armour will reduce the blow of an attack.
As time goes on new towns can be visted, new members recruited and more elaborate quests appear – some of which include one battle after another. New features regularly appear, like once a dungeon has been built enemies can be captured and their special moves learnt by solving puzzles that entail clearing the screen in a set number of turns. Some beasts can also be tamed and used as steeds to allow you to get around the map quicker, while new weapons can be forged by exploring tombs and such runes then taking them back to the castle.
The artwork is pretty clichÃ©d and the icons during battle could have been made a whole lot prettier but there’s easily just as much depth here as in the best RPGs the DS has to offer. It can be hard going at times though – early on in the game we found ourselves getting a beating from a two headed troll and had to replay earlier missions just to gain more experience, and even though we’re around six hours in at the time of typing we’re a long way off from being able to capture rival castles. Which if anything, gives a good indication of how long it’ll take to play though – hours and hours and hours.