No, we'd never heard of Puzzlegeddon either. It's the work of indie developer Pieces Interactive and, as the title suggests, offers up fast paced puzzle action with a tasty side serving of apocalyptic doom.
Each game takes place on a planet with a six by six grid at the centre. Each square on the grid is either blue, green, red or yellow. Each row can be dragged left or right, each column up or down. Matching colours in groups of five or more generates a certain amount of resource of the same colour, which is deposited into reservoirs at the top of the board. Combos, such as complete horizontal lines or multiple matching colour groups, generate an increased amount of resource. As the reservoirs fill up, you gain access to a variety of offensive and defensive powers that you can use to attack the islands of other players or to fend off their attacks. Green fuels your defensive powers, red is used for missile attacks, blue is used to buff up your base and missiles, and yellow is used to disrupt other players' actions. Each colour has three levels of increasing power.
The final choice before play begins is to select which one of seven islands will serve as your home base. Different islands provide boosts to different areas, so one might amp up your attacks while another lets you accumulate colours faster. Your island, and between two to five enemy islands, are situated on the planet's surface. Right or left clicking on your island will trigger buffs and defensive powers, and clicking on the enemy launches missile attacks and disruptions. Each island is protected by a shield that will slowly be worn down by enemy missiles. The object of the game is to be the last island standing. A game can contain two to five opponents.
It all plays out like a blend of Puzzle Quest and DEFCON. Most of your time will be spent frantically matching colours on the grid so you can top up your power reservoirs and start launching attacks or knocking down incoming enemy missiles. The in-game tutorial insists that carefully piecing together combos is the key to rapid colour collection, but we were never convinced that it was ultimately any more effective that just rapidly clicking on the board to clear whatever colour matches were there at the time. New tiles dropping in from the top of the board can set off very profitable chain reactions, and it's a perfectly viable strategy to just keep clearing tiles as quickly as possible in the hope that, sooner or later, you'll hit colourful paydirt. It does rather undermine the 'puzzle' part of the game, however, and has more in common with blindly stabbing the button on a pokie machine than any kind of stimulating mental activity. You can, of course, play the game as nature intended and put a bit more thought into your combo building. Most likely, you'll find yourself constantly switching between opportunistic, quick-and-dirty colour harvesting and more thoughtfully crafted super-combos.
The combat keeps things interesting with its constantly shifting priorities, at times feeling like an RTS that's been reduced to its barest essentials. Save up lots of red to fuel a big attack, or unleash a series of small, defence-sapping probes? Let your opponents hurl themselves on your rock solid defences, or undermine their economy by restricting their tile moving abilities? It's good, gripping gameplay and more than compensates for the potentially mindless action of the puzzle board.
There are two main game types, Deathmatch and Battle Royale. Deathmatch is an ongoing series of timed rounds, with points awarded at the end. If you're killed during a Deathmatch, you drop into a sort of limbo zone, where the coloured board tiles are replaced with skulls, crossbones, caskets and bats. If you can quickly meet a certain objective - clear ten skulls, for example - you can leave the limbo zone early and rejoin the main battle. Battle Royale, on the other hand, keeps going until only one player remains. The problem here, unfortunately, is that if you're knocked out of the game early, you have absolutely nothing to do but sit and watch until the game winds up, often many minutes later. Considering you can't see what the surviving players are doing on their tile grids, you have to just sit there, staring at a screen on which nothing much is happening, save for an occasional missile launch. Letting a defeated player at least fiddle with the tile grid would ease the pain a little, or why not let them contribute a small amount of colour to any surviving players? Anything would be better than the current obligation to sit quietly in the corner until a round winds up.
We'd feel more comfortable with the game if there was some sort of representation of the AI's game boards. You only ever see your own board, so you just have to take it on good faith that the AI isn't cheating like there's no tomorrow. Call us overly suspicious, but the harder levels of the AI seem to be able to fuel almost constant attacks. Sure, a computer is always going to trump a human when it comes to pattern matching, but we'd like some transparency to the process.
The final game option, Poison Planet, steps away from the combat and focuses instead on combo construction. The player has to put together an increasingly difficult series of combos within a set number of moves. While there is some satisfaction to be had here, it does highlight how basic Puzzlegeddon's puzzling can be, and probably doesn't serve as much more than a distraction while waiting for other players to pop up online.
And you'll be waiting quite a while, by the look of things. We weren't able to find a single online game or opponent. It's a real shame that it hasn't yet caught on, because Puzzlegeddon holds a lot of promise as an online game. People are just more fun to beat than a computer and having live opponents would obviously negate our reservations about how the AI plays the game. It's an awkward chicken/egg situation - people have to buy the game before the online community can get on its feet, but without that community there's less reason to buy the game. In its favour though, Puzzlegeddon is cheap enough - only US$14.95 - that a combination of impulse buying and word of mouth might get it over the hump.
Despite our various quibbles, Puzzlegeddon is easily worth the low price of entry. It's one of the most polished indie releases we've seen in ages, with its presentation bringing to mind, oddly enough, Super Mario Galaxy. The small, round planets, shooting stars and rubbery islands, trees and enemies create a playground that's cheerful, clear and easy to navigate. The extensive stats collection is also a neat little bonus, even if we have no idea what the entry for "Highest DPC Score" is actually referring to. The in-game tutorial is very well done as well.
While Puzzlegeddon does have problems, most notably when leaving a defeated player with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs for minutes on end, it's an addictive little action puzzler with some genuine strategic depth.