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%26rsquo;s irrelevant: this title is Neopets in name only. You may be controlling an ugly chirpy thing in a pseudo-mythological setting, but you%26rsquo;re basically playing Puzzle Quest 2.
There%26rsquo;s a twist, of course. While the structure remains largely the same %26ndash; stroll around a map doing quests and getting into puzzle scraps with monsters %26ndash; developers Infinite Interactive are now cribbing from Othello rather than Bejeweled. If you%26rsquo;re unfamiliar, here%26rsquo;s a recap: put two of your colored coins on eitherside of some of your enemy%26rsquo;s and they%26rsquo;ll flip color and become yours. Whoever has the most when the playing board%26rsquo;s full, wins.
Of course, it%26rsquo;s more convoluted than that. As well as stat-boosting gems left around, you can bring your PetPets (your Neopets%26rsquo; pets) into battle and make them perform special moves. It%26rsquo;s not as deep a system as Puzzle Quest%26rsquo;s %26ndash; statistics don%26rsquo;t seem to affect anything and there isn%26rsquo;t a lot of character customization %26ndash; but matches can be just as rewarding. If only they weren%26rsquo;t so damned hard to beat. Don%26rsquo;t be fooled by your enemies%26rsquo; cute, cartoony exteriors: they%26rsquo;re devious and supernaturally smart. Every move requires careful consideration %26ndash; 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 %26ndash; an act requiring some considerable patience. And since when were kids known for that?
Jan 21, 2009