CAPTIVATE 08: Neopets Puzzle Adventure … it’s like Puzzle Quest, with Neopets!

Based on the popular global community, Capcom will be bringing Neopets Puzzle Adventure to the Wii, Nintendo DS, and PC this holiday.

Wait, come back! Please, don’t go anywhere. I had the same reaction. Neopets? For real? When I looked at my schedule, the game was listed among the likes of Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter IV, and Bionic Commando. What on Earth could Capcom be thinking trying to show us — jaded videogame journalists — a game based on cutesy, online pet monster trading community? 

Then I ran into Infinite Interactive’s president Steve Fawkner at dinner our second evening. We got to talking, and he told me that the studio — the same folks behind Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords — was working on the Capcom Neopets title. Steve is pleasant, and I love his studio’s games, so I held back my groans. That changed quickly.

“It’s like Puzzle Quest,” he said, excitedly, “but with Neopets and an actual budget.”

Now he had my attention. Hit the jump if I’ve got yours.

As gamers who are too cool for anything that’s furry, pink, or squeaks, Neopets might be a complete turn off. But with other 12 million unique visitors a month, the folks behind Neopets.com must be doing something right. So right off the bat, Neopets Puzzle Adventure has a few things working against it when it comes to most Destructoid readers. One, it’s a licensed game and most licensed games suck; two, it’s based on a licensed that skews a bit young.

When Capcom approached Infinite Interactive with the idea — make a Puzzle Quest-like game using the Neopets license — the studio was surprisingly amped. As it turns out, more than half of the team not only knew about Neopets, but many had or did participate online. Excited, the team got to work.

Like Fawkner told me, Neopets Puzzle Adventure is a lot like Puzzle Quest in that it takes a traditional and simple game mechanic, and expands upon the idea. While Puzzle Quest was based entirely around match three, Neopets adopts Othello (or Reversi) as its core.

The rules are relatively simple, with players placing colored pieces on a grid. When one player manages to place two of their pieces between their opponents, all of the tiles flip and become theirs (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal). This continues until all spaces on the board are filled, and the player with the most pieces at the end wins. The idea is simple, and while Othello uses black and white dots and Neopets uses red and blue coins, the concept is still the same. 

But in true Infinite Interactive fashion, some new rules and mechanics are thrown in to shake things up a bit, and to give the game more depth. A score is kept throughout, which will determine the winner; score can be determined and altered in a number of ways, including using PetPets to turn the tides of the game and get the upper hand.

PetPets act like spells did in Puzzle Quest, but the system has been simplified a bit. Infinite Interactive found that for many, the use of various colors of mana and experience was a bit too complicated; for hardcore gamers, this made sense, as it’s something we’re familiar with. But for those wacky “casuals,” it was just too much. In Neopets, the ability to use the the 150 PetPets and their abilities is simply tied to controlling different colored gems on the board.

Neopets features a world map where you’ll get quests, do battle with monsters, and find and train PetPets. Again this is much like Puzzle Quest, but differs slightly in that many of these actions are represented by mini-games. While the number of different games is still being determined, Infinite Interactive is looking to Neopets.com to see what’s most popular with its users, to determined which games they’ll want to adopt. Each game will have a twist, and although we only saw one (a memory match game), Fawkner mentioned things like fishing and cooking (to combine unique items).

For fans of the Neopets universe, the game will also offer ways to unlock special items on the Web site. By generating unique codes, players will be able to get exclusive items for their Neopets. Each platform will provide a different set of items, so Capcom’s opening up the door for multiple purchases.

As far as online play, only the PC version of the game will feature true online play. The Wii will feature local multiplayer, and the Nintendo DS will support local Wi-fi battles. When asked why the Nintendo versions lacked online play, the original answer was that they felt those platforms lent themselves better to the more personal experiences of being in the same room. When I pushed Capcom’s Director of Product Development, Adam Boyes, he admitted it was more a matter of security, hinting at the fact — but clearly not saying — that pedophiles and Neopets don’t mix.

Tucked away upstairs away from the hustle and bustle surrounding Street Fighter IV and Bionic Commando, I had a chance to sit down and play some Neopets Puzzle Adventure. After creating my own unique Neopet (a cute little pink thing with girly eye-lashes that I named “Hep C”), I dove into my first game, which felt familiar, as I had played Othello before. The pace is definitely slower and more methodical than Puzzle Quest‘s match three, but just as addicting.

Neopets fan or not, I really do think that Neopets Puzzle Adventures is going to be addicting and polished enough to capture the attention of even the most hardened hardcore gamer. Get over yourselves for a second; Neopets Puzzle Adventure looks like it might swallow your souls this holiday. Beware.

Nick Chester