The Marvel Trading Card Game for PSP was released in February of 2007. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords dropped in March of that year. I've been dreaming of a combination of the two ever since. Now it's finally here, and it's everything I wanted, only free-to-play.

I wanted Marvel Comics characters facing off against Marvel Comics villains in match puzzle-based combat, with special gem-affecting powers for each individual character. I got that, and it's even team-based — I imagined picking a character and sticking with it. So far, better than I'd hoped.

The game's core storyline, an episodic affair with the promise of frequent updates, follows the events of the 2008-2009 "Dark Reign" Marvel crossover event, in which Norman "The Green Goblin" Osborne seizes power following the aftermath of the "Secret Invasion" and "Civil War" events. This particular setting suggest the game's been in the works nearly as long as I've been pining for it hypothetically.

The Marvel Game I've Dreamt Of For Six Years, Almost

There are side missions to complete, a PVP aspect that will be ramping up in the coming weeks, and the promise of regular episodic updates carrying us through "Dark Reign" and potentially beyond.

It's more than I hoped for. It's also a little less.

When I first discovered Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign was a free-to-play title, my heart sank. When I realized the game features a mechanic somewhat similar to the dreaded "collectible" card games so prevalent on other mobile platforms these days, that sinking heart cracked a little bit.

I imagined a game where players could eventually unlock an entire roster of Marvel characters simply through besting enemies in puzzle combat. I've almost got that, but there's also the ability to purchase additional resources to randomly acquire rare characters or upgrade the ones I already possess.

If I wanted to spend money on random chance, I'd kick myself until I though better of it.

With the focus on PVP mechanics ramping up in the weeks following today's release, the idea that players can spend money to strengthen their characters stinks a little. The shadow of pay-to-win is hovering closely.

That's not to say the game can't be enjoyed without spending cash. The puzzle mechanics are as solid as one would expect from the creators of the cross-over puzzle RPG genre, and that trademark one-more-round feeling is certainly present. This is the game I dreamt of for years — just slightly off, enough to make me wish I could just hand D3 Publisher $60 and be done with it.

Puzzle Quest was detined to go free-to-play at some point. I just wish Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign wasn't the point the series picked.

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Genre: Puzzle RPG

Developer: D3 Publisher

Platform: Android, iOS

Price: Free

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