The pitch for Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns might sound like an overdone concept by today’s standards: It’s a match-three puzzle game with RPG elements. You can find plenty of similar titles on console, PC, or even on your smartphone right now, and likely for much less money.
But The Legend Returns is actually a remake of one of the first successful games based on this idea, filled with new updates and some antiquated remnants from its past.
The Legend Returns is just as straightforward as the original. I play as one of several classic classes of RPG characters, like a knight or a mage, in a world being thrown into chaos by overpowered evildoers. I level up and earn gold that lets me learn new spells and buy better gear as I fight off enemies.
As I move from town to town, I meet various characters and take on several quests, eventually making my way to the final boss. While Puzzle Quest sounds like the standard RPG fare, even down to the turn-based combat, the difference is that I’m not swinging swords or slinging spells; I’m crushing foes using my skills in a match-three puzzle game.
My computer-controlled opponent and I take turns moving pieces on the shared game board in the hopes of matching up three or more of the colorful tiles. There are several pieces that each correspond to different mana we can use for special attacks, pieces of gold I can spend in shops for better gear, skulls that deal direct damage, and even scattered experience points I can use to level up my character. Each battle in Puzzle Quest is a tug of war over those resources, as my opponent and I both try to get the most powerful bonuses for our characters while denying the other side what it needs to win.
Skulls are a commodity worth prioritizing, since they deal direct damage and there’s always a limited amount on the play field. As in an RPG, my opponent and I have a certain amount of health; once it’s been whittled down to zero, the fight’s over.
Depending on which character I play, I’ll have a different experience in battle. Some classes will take the gathered mana to unleash heavy-hitting attacks, whereas rogues can transform the battlefield and turn mana into gold. As I level up, I can learn new talents — like in any other RPG — plus I can use skill points to improve how many resources I pull from my matched pieces.
A link to the past
The Legend Returns brings all of the familiar elements back from the 2007 original, with the addition of extra campaigns and five new classes made specifically for the remaster. While this decade’s version of the game plays as tightly as it did back then, it also feels like a time capsule from that era.
There are minor cracks in the armor that are hard to ignore in 2019, including low-resolution character art, which stands out even more so due to the rest of the interface getting a high-resolution update. Those small visual elements might feel like blemishes, but there’s also something wonderful about the game’s antiquated roots.
Since Puzzle Quest’s release in 2007, I’ve become trained by similar match-three games to expect certain nuisances to crop up. Microtransactions, timers, or other attention-grabbing pings are unavoidable distractions that take away from the main experience in modern games, especially mobile ones.
But since The Legend Returns makes so few changes to the original design, it bypasses much of what is the “norm” for similar, modern titles. It was pleasant dipping back into the same game I enjoyed on my PlayStation Portable way back in 2007, without any of today’s headaches. Some games have become so busy, buzzing us with all sorts of time wasters and calls to action, that this sort of retro release can feel remarkably quiet and peaceful.
Being a relic of the past decade, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns doesn’t offer a surprising or fresh experience. But that’s not a bad thing. Despite a few visual quirks, it’s just as enjoyable and rewarding as it ever was.
I may have expected a bit more polish from the remaster, but everything that’s important — namely, the simple and satisfying gameplay — remains intact.
Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns releases on Nintendo Switch on Sept. 19. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” Switch download code provided by D3 Go. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.