Puzzle Quest was an addicting game that could eat up hours and hours of your time without you even realizing it. It's pseudo-sequel, Galactrix, wasn't. Developer Infinite Interactive has decided to go back to what made the game successful in the first place, and while this has definitely worked, there have been left a startling number of gameplay elements that make the sequel (simply titled Puzzle Quest 2) frustrating to play.

It's hard exactly to pinpoint what made the first game so fun. It took the pick-up-and-play nature of a simple game like Bejeweled and added levels, stats, magic spells, equipment, all that stuff to it, making into some sort of crazy game that couldn't be put down as you tromp around the countryside defeating hordes of enemies by outmaneuvering them at a game made up of gems.

Puzzle Quest 2 changes the formula while keeping things the same, so to speak. The view is much more 'zoomed-in', as it were, and you'll find the adventure limited to a single town, and the halls and halls of dungeons below it. Your character walks between rooms and hotspots, fighting enemies and completing quests, with puzzle mechanics extremely similar to the first game. Differences include the removal of both money and experience gems, the inclusion of a new purple mana-type, and the addition of the element of Action Points. Action Points are earned by matching up fist-shaped gems, which allow you to use items that you've equipped such as weapons (which do direct damage), shields (which can prevent damage), or potions (which give you bonus mana and health).

This equipment grants you many more options, though sometimes it simply feels like another type of mana that you're saving up for. Only now, the spells are simply attacks that do damage, defend, or get you some more mana. There is an upgrade system for your equipment, though, that involves taking materials earned from fighting enemies and visiting a blacksmith to get your equipment turned into...well, better equipment. Bonuses to the stats, and all that. Unfortunately the equipment rarely gets more complicated than getting bigger numbers in your attribute screen or damage output, but being able to upgrade it is a nice addition.

A lot of things make their return, such as companions (though they're a lot less useful this time around), spell-learning, and various minigames. But these minigames are pretty different this time around. There are a variety of minigames for a variety of tasks which include but are not limited to: picking locks, disarming traps, putting out fires, bashing down doors, and even looting for treasure. All of them have their own mechanics, such as having to match up keys to earn loot or 'highlight' the entire board via matching gems to search for treasure, and are actually a refreshing break from the combat. This is due in part to the fact that they don't come too often, and are quick to complete.

This brings me to the biggest problem with the game, which is the combat. But not all the combat! Just...well, let me explain.

The original Puzzle Quest had magic resistance for each element, as well as defensive gear that had a chance of reducing incoming damage by a couple points. Generally the resistances were a pain, but only certain enemies had them and the equipment was never too much of a problem. Puzzle Quest 2 changes this with a defense attribute and ubiquitous magical resistance for every element. This leads into a lot, and I mean a lot, of wasted time and battles that feel like they take forever.

So the defense attribute is, simply, the percent chance that an incoming attack will have its damage halved. This can be a problem very often, since defense can go way above 100, meaning every attack will be doing half damage. This makes battles a giant pain to get through, and the further you get in the game, the worse this gets. There are abilities to lower defense, but sacrificing one of the already-limited spell slots simply for an ability to make each and every battle faster than a frozen bowl of molasses is just irritating.

Then there's the spell resistance. The resistance in Puzzle Quest 2 is not applied to each mana type, but instead to every mana type, and from the looks of things, even early on in the game, it seems like every enemy comes with a healthy dose of it. Any spell that's used, whether it's magical or not, whether it even has the enemy as a target or not, has a chance of simply failing, wasting both the mana used on it as well as your turn.

On paper this may sound like a decent idea, but in practice it means an infuriating experience where half a dozen attacks are simply batted away because of a number that is not even displayed on the Nintendo DS version of the game. Between this and the 'defense' attribute, things can crawl along painfully, and it feels like some battles are simply out of your control.

Well, that said, if you can look beyond these issues, then Puzzle Quest 2 can be a fun experience. It manages to blend well the puzzling and growth-driven aspects of the first game while injecting new gameplay types and a new point of view to the game. Though the handholding (like the constant popping up of the next quest objective, even if it's to simply walk down the hallway) can slow things down almost more than the graphics tend to do. Still, the four classes presented to you each play wildly differently with all unique skills, so there's a lot of differing strategies with what's a good idea.

The spells themselves, in fact, play a much larger role here than they did in the first game, serving more strategic purposes than simply doing a bit more damage or stunning an enemy. There are problems with the AI, since apparently after hearing the complaints about how omniscient it was in the first game (it really wasn't), the developers have decided this time around to make it dumb as a pile of uneducated bricks. This doesn't mean all battles are easy, though it does mean that sometimes the enemy will simply do stupid things for no reason at all.

Puzzle Quest 2 has its problems, that much is for sure. People that are expecting the exact same experience from the second game as the first was able to give them are probably going to be at least a little disappointed. But the game does harbor some fun puzzling RPG elements in it, and though they're not perfect, they are fun to play through. Look past the problems, and you'll find a game that's still pretty darn addicting.