The Marvel property has certainly come a long way since the 90s when it comes to pop culture: From a few cartoons and licensing characters to movies, to becoming one the most wanted properties with now multiple shows, movies and of course games.
Marvel Puzzle Quest isn’t the first Marvel licensed game that bears the F2P tag, but the Puzzle Quest addition had me intrigued and we’re left with a game that is somewhat two faced (I know what I did there.)
Match 3 Evolution:
Marvel Puzzle Quest as the title says, features game design based off of the Puzzle Quest series. Puzzle Quest was a match 3 puzzle game that combined the basic system with RPG mechanics and abilities.
How it worked was that the board was full of gems of different colors as you would expect from the match 3 genre. Match three or more gems of the same color to attack the enemy. Every match you made would add those gems to your stockpile which would enable you to use special abilities with the respective color gems.
Marvel Puzzle Quest follows the same basic blueprint but with some new additions to the mix. Many special abilities transform gems on the field to give them a new purpose or set up an attack in a few turns. These gems will either remain on the field until used in a match or are destroyed after a countdown when the special attack is launched.
This new mechanic gives the gameplay some added oomph and adds the dynamic of requiring both sides to attempt to interfere with each other’s plans more directly.
The story of the game involves some material called ISO 8 arriving on Earth and causing trouble for the good guys as everyone is fighting over it.
The general structure is that campaigns are broken down into battles with a group of random enemies, a super villain or a combination of the two. Battles can reward the player with specific items and gives them reason to be replayed.
Marvel Puzzle Quest also features timed events where you can score rarer covers and more rewards while facing harder fights. Whoever plays and wins the most over the length of the event will be rewarded a rare prize and is a great way of adding multiplayer without a pvp aspect (as of right now.)
Now you may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about the superheroes and the F2P aspect yet and that is because they are so intertwined to be both the best and worse parts of the game.
Cover to Cover:
Talking about the F2P progression system is where Marvel Puzzle Quest becomes somewhat confusing so bear with me.
Every battle of the game is based around a party of three heroes that you pick from your roster. Sometimes a higher level guest hero joins for a specific battle and is mainly used to be the deciding factor.
The heroes of the game are given to you in the form of comic book covers which is a very brilliant form of using the Marvel property. Different covers of the same character also feature different stats and abilities.
For instance, Hawkeye in his classic costume and his modern one are two completely different characters.
In Marvel Puzzle Quest there are two resources like in any F2P game: ISO 8 which is the free currency and hero points which are the premium. ISO 8 is awarded for beating missions and is sometimes a bonus reward while hero points are rarely a bonus reward and can be bought with real money.
Now this is where things get tricky. To unlock and improve a character’s special ability, you need to find copies of their comic cover that come with the skill. This can be unlocked as a reward for a mission or spending ISO 8 or hero points for a random cover.
Getting a new skill will unlock that ability for combat while a copy will simply augment the ability. For every copy that you find and use on an existing hero will allow you to use ISO 8 to level them up. Leveling a hero up will improve the damage they do when matching gems raise their overall health and increase the potency of any skill that does damage or heals.
If you don’t want to spend time hunting for covers, you can spend hero points to augment an unlocked skill and no, this isn’t the only time that real money is used to speed things up.
You’ll find very quickly that the game is based heavily around forcing you to spend money. Health is persistent across battles and recovers slowly in real time… unless you use a first aid kit that is either a bonus reward or a premium purchase. Boosts can be bought or found that increase the damage of matching specific gems and of course you can spend real money to acquire higher ranked covers.
The higher ranked covers are a big deal as you’ll find that they are objectively better than their lower counterparts. Many of the early characters you’ll find do little damage and only have two skills possible to use. With later covers starting at a higher level, do more damage, have more health and have more skills.
Speaking of health, the pay or wait system becomes frustrating when it is combined with the new gem system. The problem you’ll run into is that when facing enemies with countdown gems, more often than not the gem that will get chosen is out of the way and unable to be matched in time. Effectively giving the enemy free damage that will eat into your playing time afterwards.
And this is where my problem with Marvel Puzzle Quest and its micro transaction model come into play.
They have a great hook with the different Marvel heroes, interesting additions to the puzzle quest system and a great tournament mode.
However, the micro transaction model is so blatant and in your face that it just over shadows the good of the game.
Having health tied to your pay or wait mechanic is just greed, pure and simple. And its stuff like that that makes me not want to spend money on a game. When people talk about how free to play is “ruining video games”, they can definitely use Marvel Puzzle Quest as exhibit A. It’s such a far cry from the balance between pay and play of League of Legends or Card Hunter with their micro transaction models.
Another example is that you’ll quickly find yourself unlocking new covers but the four roster limit at the start will fill up. Forcing you to spend 100 hero points a pop (or 99 cents) to unlock more slots with this cost progressively becoming more expensive. Not only that, but there is a limit for how long a new cover will remain in your inventory and if you don’t make room for it within 6 days, you’ll lose it through no fault of your own.
I talked about this more on the cast this week and I’ve been told that I should try out the other Marvel free to play game that was released this year. As for Marvel Puzzle Quest, I hope that the designers see the error of their ways as the game right now is the classic example of good gameplay being marred by a tacked on micro-transaction model.