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You might not have heard of Neopets. A website featuring virtual animals, virtual gambling and a heap of very real advertising, it remains inexplicably popular among gullible net-surfing children. But that’s irrelevant: this title is Neopets in name only. You may be controlling an ugly chirpy thing in a pseudo-mythological setting, but you’re basically playing Puzzle Quest 2.
There’s a twist, of course. While the structure remains largely the same – stroll around a map doing quests and getting into puzzle scraps with monsters – developers Infinite Interactive are now cribbing from Othello rather than Bejeweled. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a recap: put two of your colored coins on either side of some of your enemy’s and they’ll flip color and become yours. Whoever has the most when the playing board’s full, wins.
Of course, it’s more convoluted than that. As well as stat-boosting gems left around, you can bring your PetPets (your Neopets’ pets) into battle and make them perform special moves. It’s not as deep a system as Puzzle Quest’s – statistics don’t seem to affect anything and there isn’t a lot of character customization – but matches can be just as rewarding. If only they weren’t so damned hard to beat. Don’t be fooled by your enemies’ cute, cartoony exteriors: they’re devious and supernaturally smart. Every move requires careful consideration – you should always think two turns ahead.
Which begs the question: who exactly is this aimed at? For fans of Puzzle Quest, the garish characters and twee license are likely to be an impenetrable barrier; as for Neopets enthusiasts, why the hell would they be interested in Othello? There are a few unlockable treats for the website, and the opportunity to capture and train PetPets will doubtless appeal, but to enjoy both requires indulging in a boatload of often infuriating puzzling – an act requiring some considerable patience. And since when were kids known for that?
Jan 21, 2009