Puzzle Quest is one of the scariest games I've seen in years. I'm no stranger to game addictions. I've been on and off World of Warcraft three times now (permanently off now; I'm not getting the expansion and don't like raiding), and have been hooked on everything from Oblivion to Zelda. Puzzle Quest offers the kind of nightmarish addictive powers I haven't seen since Tetris DS and Lumines. I have no idea why, but there's just something compelling about shuffling around blocks to get points.
Bejeweled is one of the archetypical puzzle games. Slide around icons until three or more match, and when they disappear and other blocks fall, try to get those to match to produce a point-generating waterfall of disappearing blocks. Almost everyone's played it, whether on a computer or a cell phone. It's simply inexplicably addictive. Puzzle Quest takes that addictiveness and mixes it up with the addictiveness of role-playing games to create a hideous eldrich monster of can't-put-it-downability
A look at GameSpot's reviews of the game will give you an idea of the system: basic Bejeweled gameplay combined with RPG aspects such as levels, stats, spells, monsters, dungeons, and even mounts. Match colored orbs for mana, jewels and coins for experience and money, and skulls to damage your enemy. As you level up through combat, you get more and more skills and higher attributes, letting you take on more formidable foes with deeper strategies. Pretty soon it becomes much more than simple gem-matching. Chipping away at the enemy by matching three skulls simply isn't enough, and you have to start using spells and tactics to set yourself up for massive cascades. Even the battles and quests themselves can vary in complexity. Besides the simple battles mentioned above, devious premade puzzles to capture enemies and mounts, special tile-breaking puzzles to forge items and learn spells, and even timed matches to train mounts add to the game's depth.
Puzzle Quest pretty much ate up my weekend. I simply couldn't put it down. By Sunday night, I was seeing skulls and orbs slide around in my mind. I haven't had game flashbacks so bad since Tetris DS came out. I kept wanting to play one more game, fight one more battle, get one more rune, level up my mount one more time. Finally, I just gave my DS to a friend so I wouldn't be tempted to play it anymore. Granted, I also wanted to read two more Dresden Files novels before the next one, White Night, comes out, but still! I've never done that before, not even with Tetris DS.
It isn't a perfect game. Both the DS and PSP versions have their own share of irritating bugs. The PSP has some loading time hiccups, the DS' touch screen doesn't work quite as smooth as it should, and neither have any sort of online play. But, it will still eat up your time like candy and have you screaming about hit points at 4:00 in the morning. It's handheld crack.
Now to get my DS back. I need to level up...