- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2010

Here’s a look at some of the latest video-game downloads with an artistic style available on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.

Puzzle Quest 2 (D3 Publisher, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 Microsoft Points)  This fantasy role-playing adventure firmly controlled by a player’s efficiency at Bejeweled-style conundrums returns more epic than ever.

Control a customized character-class hero as he walks around the kingdom of Verloren and runs into an assortment of citizens in need of help from enemies such as swarms of rats, goblin queens, dark orcs and trolls.

The level of the actual turn-based puzzles is not limited to simply matching three icons vertically or horizontally on a game board to collect rewards and dispatch opponents. Those icons open a world where matching leads to collecting mana to unleash spells, or gauntlets to strike down an enemy with obtained weapons, or filling tumblers to open a lock, or skulls to weaken health.

Besides the seemingly unending supply of puzzles, I loved the trading-card-style illustrations, dungeon exploration, upgrades to everything from intelligence to armor, and an unobtrusive soundtrack to soothe me while I spent too much time pondering my next move.

Add in an online multiplayer tournament mode (select four monsters and fight an opponent’s team of creatures) and it’s points very well spent.

DeathSpank (Electronic Arts, rated T for teen, PlayStation Network for $14.99 or Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 Microsoft Points)  Fiscally minded gamers in need of laughs and looking to take part in a third-person slaughter will find a pleasant respite in this humorous hack-and-slash epic.

Through a dazzling design mixing 2-D, 3-D, vibrant color palettes and bit of a “Samurai Jack” animation style, Ron Gilbert, the man behind the Secret of Monkey Island, delivers a fantasy gaming wonderland.

Control the pompous DeathSpank (voiced with a Patrick Warburton charm by Michael Dobson) to defeat Lord Von Prong and find the Artifact while tangling with some unruly chickens, collecting gold coins, teleporting through magical outhouses and helping citizens with a variety of issues.

A combat, magic and gear system offers a plentiful supply of armor and arms, such a flaming ax, a crossbow and the Stompin’ Warhammer. Or get help from the Gloves of Pointyness for use on the fly and the ability to unleash a Weapon of Justice on beasties, including flame-belching dragons and giant spiders.

Tempting long-winded question-and-answer sessions with characters explain every subtle nuance of the plot and its stars, but will toy with a player’s patience as he wants to jabber with the Demon Witch but also wants to get to the battles with Greem Queens and ore-eating imps.

Bloody combat abounds while visiting locales such as the Garden of Death, Slime Pits and Demon Mines fueled by a score seemingly concocted by Danny Elfman conducting Link Wray.

DeathSpank already is well worth the money, but adding to the fun, a co-op pal named Sparkles the Wizard can jump in (available to play for a buddy in the same room) and wields powers of restoring health, blowing fire from his wand or creating an aggressive doppelganger of himself. Now, a pair of players can battle side by side and actively appreciate the bizarre universe.

Limbo (Microsoft Game Studios, rated T for teen, Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 Microsoft points)  Video game art for the sake of platforming arrives in a downloadable format and stars the silhouette of a little boy in search of his sister.

An exercise in the shocking and puzzlingly grotesque greets the budding German Expressionist in the family who is enamored by smothering, shadowy, black-and-white animation and death.

I will offer little in the way of story or surprises other than to report it’s a “Lord of the Flies” lifestyle for a child trying to survive a monotone nightmare that comes complete with hostile brethren, spiders, mechanical monstrosities and bear traps.

Within a two-dimensional realm, the player controls the protagonist as he moves forward and backward, grabs and jumps, and relies on the most subtle of visual and aural cues to work through a forest and industrial environments.

Only the game’s brevity hinders its brilliance, but its understated beauty and design will crown it a masterpiece.

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