Puzzle Expedition Review
Puzzle Expedition is something of an unfortunate case. The bland box art does little to attract, the in-game visuals provide next to no inspiration, and the thin story about a girl and her guide searching for a missing father doesn't tug at the emotions in any fashion. I even turned off the sound after five minutes of hearing the same loop of exceptionally grainy, lo-fidelity music. Despite these generic shortcomings, Puzzle Expedition has proven to be a formidable opponent, with some of the most challenging puzzles I have encountered spread through more than 90 levels.
Completing each stage requires that you maneuver Anna and Ben to the exit. They are limited by how high they can climb and drop, and of course, you can expect a variety of obstacles and pitfalls along the way. You can swap between characters at any time, which is a critical skill as you move and drop blocks and activate platforms on your way to the goal. Puzzle Expedition is at it's most devious when Ben and Anna are separated at the beginning, since a configuration of blocks that leads one character to the exit may just as easily put the other at an impasse.
Early puzzles are rather mundane and require little more than pushing a block over a hole or dropping a block from a platform to create a step, but the situation grows increasingly dicey as exploding blocks, magnetic blocks, elevators, and other devices are introduced. Amazingly, there seems to be no end to the challenging configurations of blocks and platforms the developers have devised, and you'll rarely encounter a familiar situation twice.
It's extremely easy to get frustrated with Puzzle Expedition, which is why I'm thankful for infinite retries and the three skip-level tokens allotted. After spending an hour more trying to wrap my head around an inconceivable scenario, you can bet that I was willing to spend a token and have it go on my permanent record. More than anything though, I wish that Puzzle Expedition featured in-stage checkpoints or a way to reverse a handful of movements. Many puzzles require dozens of movements performed in perfect sequences. Throwing it all away because of a single mistake is enough to break the strongest of wills.
The main obstacle to fully enjoying Puzzle Expedition is the difficulty curve, or rather, the range of viciously jagged peaks. It will hit the sweet spot of challenge for a few stages, lulling you into a sense of accomplishment, and then it throws you under a spike-tired bus and kicks the transmission into reverse for good measure. Then, the next stage barely qualifies as fodder for a tutorial. It feels good when you pass those obnoxiously difficult stages, but you never get a true sense of progression.
Puzzle Expedition takes place in five environments, but shamefully, fails to use them as anything more than backdrops. This begs the question of why they are included in the first place. Despite visual differences, the puzzles in the lush jungles of Cambodia, the frozen caverns of Alaska, and the depths of Atlantis are the same. Even if the environments aren't harnessed in any way (ice blocks anyone?), I would have appreciated overarching themes, such as higher drops in one area and more mechanical-based puzzles in another.
Puzzle Expedition is far from flashy. Without a scoring system or an engaging story, the only reward for a job well done is pride, and there is plenty to go around. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more challenging puzzle game on the DS. At times, it's even too devious for its own good.