The idea of mixing a puzzle game with an RPG may have sounded preposterous a few years ago, but with the moderate success of Puzzle Quest the idea has proven the formula can work. Capcom has obviously taken notice of this with their latest puzzle game developed by Infinite Interactive and using the popular kid-friendly license of Neopets. If you are unfamiliar with the license Neopets it is a website designed to addict children in by allowing them to create and nurture their very own virtual pet. Users can earn points to spend on their creations by playing a series of mini-games and every time the company introduces anything new kids flock to it for a chance to earn more points for their silicon animals.
The idea behind Neopets Puzzle Adventure is very similar to the aforementioned Puzzle Quest. You begin the game by selecting one of several of these virtual animals including Kacheek and Kourga among various others. You can then choose to customize them by changing a variety of options such as color and gender. Once you have chosen your avatar it is time to board the Neopet airship and begin your magical journey through the world of these peculiar creatures.
There are two modes found in Puzzle Adventure; story mode and instant action. As you can imagine instant action is much like the name implies and involves tackling a host of mini-games unlocked via the story mode or simply tinkering around with some simplistic puzzles available out of the gate. The bulk of single player though is the story mode, and this will be where you spend the majority of your time. For the most part the story mode is simply a series of puzzle battles with some quirky, yet sometimes genuinely funny cut scenes. There are some diversions to be found in story mode though, such as collecting items, recruiting new pets and even cooking, which manage to break up the monotony just enough to keep things fresh throughout.
The core mechanic behind Neopets is reminiscent of Othello or Reversi. Each player is represented by a side of a coin. Sandwiching these coins will cause those them to join your side. Neopets takes this principle and changes it up with special tiles that have various effects. The idea here is to chain together moves and boosting your score as the player with the most points at the end is the winner, so creating combos becomes imperative, especially later in the game. You can also block certain tiles creating an element of strategy in the mix. Power-ups are called PetPets and can be collected throughout the course of the game. These range in ability and can really turn the tide of the game if you manage their use wisely.
Outside of the core puzzle mechanic are the aforementioned mini-games. These are exclusive to the Wii iteration and do help to flesh out the title beyond just being a puzzle game. The problem is that most of them simply are not that much fun to play. Things such as forging new weapons and cooking up new spells do add some flavor to an otherwise monotonous experience, but they begin to serve as more of a diversion than an addition. Also unless you are an avid Neopets fan and visit the website frequently there is little incentive to come back for more once you have completed the story mode. However, if you are a fanatic the cool items you can obtain for the website is a definite bonus and well worth revisiting the game more than once.
Controlling Neopets works for the most part with the Wii remote and can actually be handled with just one button. Every action in the game requires you to point the cursor onscreen and tap a button, and it works in theory. Unfortunately the Wii version of the game suffers from some terrible frame rate issues that render some action much more complex than they need to be. There were several times where I found myself waving my remote in frustration as I tried to perform the simplest of tasks only to select the wrong option thanks to the terrible lag. This is unacceptable considering the game’s visuals are not exactly pushing the limits of the hardware. Amazingly enough there are also an abundance of loading screens that take you out of the action entirely. Neopets is a fun game, but hampered by some serious technical flaws.
Probably the biggest problem with Neopets though is the visuals. From the lackluster character art to the static backgrounds the game puts off a vibe of sloppy. Everything feels like it was copy and pasted from a cheap website and unfortunately the lagging frame rate issues do nothing but further drive home the feeling. The sounds are equally disappointing with a lack of variety in the tracks and some dreadful sound effects that range from manageable to downright atrocious. Overall the game feels like a quick and dirty port of the handheld version when it comes to the presentation aspect of the product.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure is certainly not going to re-invent the wheel when it comes to puzzle games, but I do have to give the developers credit for trying something new with the license. If you can get past the poor production values and the terrible frame rate there is enjoyable game to be found, granted you are a fan of the aformentioned virtual pets. If you have a DS I highly recommend picking up this title for that instead as it has all the glory and none of the downfalls of its console brethren. However, if you are a Neopets fanatic and only own a Wii there are some good times to be found here, immediately following another loading screen.