Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Game by:

Reviewed by:
On December 31, 2013
Last modified:December 31, 2013


Available to play on:
PC (Win, Steam), iOS, Android

Fun for the first few hours. But it's not cool when superheroes start begging for money.

Christmas has already happened for you, and of course no one noticed that you’re out of games to play.  The new shoes your grandmother got you were fantastic, and man you’re looking forward to cashing in that gift certificate to Red Lobster.  However, what you really needed was a new game.

In desperation you turned to the Steam store, and poked at their free games.  Hey, a new Puzzle Quest!  It’s even themed around the Marvel universe, and I certainly did like that new Avengers movie.  Let’s give this new Puzzle Quest game a try!

I should note, of course that the game is not PC-only but also Android and iOS.  After all, what casual game worth its salt these days isn’t going to mobile devices?


Personally, I was going to give this iteration of Puzzle Quest a miss.  Don’t get me wrong, I effing love the Puzzle Quest series.  The gameplay is simple.  At its heart, it’s a Bejeweled clone.  However, Puzzle Quest 1 and 2 were so much more.  The basics of the game have always been the same.  You, and your enemy, take turns clearing tiles from the grid, and each tile cleared does damage to your enemy.  If you clear tiles of a certain color, you gain points for that color.  You can spend these points to use skills that will help you out.  Using your skills properly is often the key to winning.  This all comes together for the strange brain numbing joy that a casual game brings, with the time suck an RPG can bring.  It’s sort of like chocolate and bacon, two things that sound like they should never come together, but bring together something could never quite be alone.

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign takes the staple gameplay for the series and turns it on its head.  Instead of playing as one hero, you play as three heroes.  Clearing a color not only nets you points for that color to use, but, the hero that matches that color will be the one that takes the attack phase, and defends against the enemy’s turn.  So, if one of your best hero’s health is low, it may behoove you to clear the tiles that correspond with your weaker ally’s tile set, so that you don’t have to worry about that whole dying thing.


So, there’s a great pedigree here, and some game-changing elements that bring an honest change to the series.  Surely they’ve had enough time with this gameplay strategy that they have a recipe for success.  They even have a huge boost in the product tie-in with Marvel, an expansive universe with almost a decade of ideas to pull from.  The question is, is the game worth free?  Well, that’s a difficult question.  I bring you, the good, the bad, and the ugly of Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign.

Let’s Play of Marvel Puzzle Quest – SlackerKite

The Good

There’s a lot of good here to talk about, so let’s start there.  If you’ve ever played a Puzzle Quest game before, you’ll fall in line quickly here.  The addition of the multi-character fights is pretty nice.  It gives the player the chance to really play with different line-ups.

Each win nets you certain bonuses.  Amongst your rewards, are ISO-8 which you can use to level up your characters, bonus items you can bring into battle to get better use of the tiles you pull in gameplay, a new hero or power for your existing hero, the ability to heal your character, or the rare coins you can spend in multiple ways.

Managing your character feels good for the most part, but, can feel a bit a bit like they tried to throw too many things into the pile.  Each character has a “cover” which is what you level up.  In order to level up your character, you have to either collect the cover for your character’s power, or buy the power using coins.  Then, and only then, can you spend your ISO-8 to level up your characters.  It feels like the game wants you to see leveling your characters as managing a card game.  It’s not, so it just makes you wonder why we’re bothering.  As well, our more eagle-eyed readers may notice something a bit off about this system, we’ll get to that later.


These changes bring a certain amount of dynamics to the game, since you have multiple characters you want to even out your abilities amongst your team.  However, spreading yourself too thin will leave you underpowered in your fights.  This leads to a certain strategy in playing the game that offers a different experience than seen with the single-hero gameplay style.

Managing your team, and finding a team that compliments each other, is the name of the game.  Making sure you have a hero that can make use of all the colors you can collect, and have abilities that bounce off each other well, leads to an interesting difference in gameplay mechanics to this iteration.

As well, abilities can make changes to the tiles on the play board itself.  For instance, tiles can be altered to deal damage each turn they’re on the board, reduce damage each turn they’re on the board, or provide a critical attack.  As well, the enemy can lay down tiles that after a certain period will trigger a devastating attack that the player will need to diffuse unless he is willing to lose a hero.  It keeps the player on his toes, which I can appreciate.  If this covered everything, I’d absolutely recommend the game, but let’s delve further.

The Bad

When your heroes take damage, the damage stays with them after the battle.  Each point of damage takes one second to heal.  As well, if your character falls in battle, that’s another 30 minutes your character can’t be in use before they can even start healing.

This means that your power team, the one that you know works well together, isn’t always available to you.  As well, each mission only gives so many rewards, and even when there is a reward remaining you may want you’ll often only get 20 of the ISO-8.  To me, getting that reward feels like being spat on and being told I should be grateful for the attention.  Going back to previous battles to scoop up the last of the rewards is often an exercise in futility and not worth it.  This seriously breaks the flow of the gameplay.


As well, your roster can only be so big.  Unless you spend coins to increase your roster, you’ll find yourself with a half-dead roster and just choosing not to play the game since heal items are pretty rare.  That is, unless you’re willing to spend coins on it.  As well, since characters can be ranked as one star, two star, and three stars, you’ll find yourself getting the same covers for the same one star characters that you never wanted and rarely getting actually useful characters.

Finally, unless you’re willing to spend coins on your character’s powers, you’re stuck waiting to uncover a new cover for your character before you can level up your character, or get an increase in the power you actually use from that character.  Ultimately, this will leave you feeling constantly crippled and underpowered.  You’ll find yourself juggling underleveled characters in battles they aren’t ready for because, at the least, you’re guaranteed a reward for your time.

The Ugly

I hate the phrase “Free to play, pay to win.”  Most games that gamers label this are simply slower without paying money but are still worth it.  In a balanced game, that statement is a heaping crock.  Plants vs Zombies 2 was a brilliant example of how a free to play game could be.  Plants vs Zombie 2 is well balanced, and leaves you wanting more.  It teases you with things you can’t get otherwise, whispering in your ear, hey, I bet you’d be that much better with the ice plant.  You should pick that up you sexy zombie slayer you.  It’s only three bucks!

Even Candy Crush, and god help me I’m praising Candy Crush now, with its certain number of failures per day and social media BS, leave you with the feeling that your next reward is just around the corner if you just keep pushing.  The flow is strong with this one.


You’ll notice the word coins came up often in this article.  It takes coins to expand your roster.  It takes coins to power up your characters.  It takes coins to buy covers for superior or better characters.  It takes coins to heal your character when you’re out of healing items.  Unless you’re willing to spend money on coins, you’re going to hit a glass ceiling fast.  You’ll never be able to play the characters you want, and you’ll never proceed.  Even if you spend the money, the covers you get are still random chance, so the chances you’re going to waste the money you spend is high.  And, the coup de grace, coins are not cheap.  You’re going to spend at least $10 on enough coins to get what you want to last for the moment, much less what you’ll need a couple of hours of gameplay later.

I wanted to like this game, I really wanted to like this game.   However, after tossing a few bucks at the game because it seemed fun with some great ideas, it just turned to say “I could use a few more dollars.”  That strategy never worked for my broke uncle Jimmy, and you, Marvel Puzzle Quest, are no Uncle Jimmy.  We have a casual market filled to the brim with free to play games like Candy Crush that are way, way more subtle about nickel-and-diming their customers that it should not be a big deal.  Telling me it’ll be another 40 minutes before I can use Thor again unless I want to spend more money is ridiculous.  Either swapping between more characters needs to be more fluid so I can level multiple characters quickly, or the amount of time for characters to come back decreased.  Or, and this is crazy I know, if you lose a battle you just don’t get anything like every other puzzle quest ever.  The fact that the original game designers did not build this iteration could not be more apparent.


The last nail in the coffin, for me, is the story.  I know almost nothing about Marvel.  I thought the Avengers movie was pretty cool.  I thought that Spider-Man was swell growing up.  However, your starter is Iron Man.  The game virtually tosses you Hawkeye and Black Widow.  This game could not possibly play more lip service to the Avengers movie without ever actually understanding it.  This is a Fake Geek Game.  As well, you get about two panels of story before and after each battle which make virtually no sense.  Why the hell is someone pretending to be Wolverine?  Yeah the storyline gets resolved after a few panels, but it certainly still doesn’t make sense.  If you’re going to include storyline, it should feel like it’s at least going somewhere.  That’s what comic books do.  They give stories.  Yes, a couple of the characters you can play are references to specific Marvel storylines, but they come out of nowhere and are just a cover you can collect, they do not alter the story in any way.

I wanted to recommend this game, it seemed fun and lively at first, but the more I played it the more I hated it.  It’s rare a game makes me want to toss my laptop, but this game did it after the fourth time I redid a quest hoping to pick up one of the items I wanted and continuously got 20 ISO-8 instead of picking up the last prize from the stage.

It’s not an ugly game, as there are good ideas here.  However, the pay-to-win elements absolutely destroy it.  If you pay the money to win you can just rush through it, but the fun of the game isn’t worth the money required.  Marvel Puzzle Quest is a bad game.  Don’t waste your time, even for free.  Download Plants vs Zombies 2 for your android or iOS instead.  Or…do something, anything else.  Re-read an old book, take care of some chores around the house you’ve been putting off.  There is nothing to see here, move along.

Travis is a tech nerd that spends far too much of his time drinking beer no one drinks, listening to music no one likes, and playing video games where he rolls larger things over smaller things. He also makes Let’s Play videos and posts on twitter for grins and giggles.

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