Neopets Puzzle Adventure Interview: Sean Epperson, Producer

I recently had a chance to learn more about Neopets Puzzle Adventure during an interview with Sean Epperson, a producer at Griptonite Games. While most hardcore gamers may not give anything associated with Neopets a second look, Epperson was quick to point out that there are many reasons why they should.

Brandy: Can you give our readers a quick rundown of the main storyline and gameplay of the title?

Sean Epperson: In Neopets Puzzle Adventure, the player plays a Neopet who has recently arrived in the fantastic city of Shenkuu. While the player is getting to know the varied and interesting characters that inhabit Shenkuu, a mysterious object falls from the sky prompting them to investigate. What they find sends them on a whirlwind adventure through several areas of Neopia.

B: I understand the title is very much like the classic game of Reversi.

SE: Gameplay is loosely based on the core concepts of Reversi. We then took that concept and gave it a "Neopets flair" both in look and in play, giving it the name of "Battle".

Reversi, for those who are unfamiliar, is a classic strategy board game that involves double-sided coins (normally one side is light and the other dark, with each color representing one player, although "heads and tails" work just as well) that are placed on a grid. Each time a coin of one color is placed next to one of the opposite color, it changes those next to it to its own color. That is, place a black piece next to a white piece and the white piece is flipped over to become black.

The object of the game then, is to turn as many of your opponent's pieces to your color as possible.

B: What sorts of elements have been added from the Neo universe that make the game so unique?

SE: The main addition is a suite of collectible Petpet powers. When playing Battle, the player chooses a selection of Petpets from those they have found. Each Petpet has a unique power that can change the game in many ways: allowing the player to select tokens to flip, protect tokens from being flipped, randomizing sections of the board, and even skip turns! There is also an assortment of different board layouts which have areas that you can't place a token on. This makes for some VERY challenging game play. You may have played Reversi before, but you've never played something like this!

Three additional minigames, one of which is only available on the DS, add extra fun and variety to the game making for a really fun experience.

B: What are some of the customization options available in terms of your Neopets? That is, will you be able to choose their clothing, names, etc?

SE: Players have the ability to select which species of Neopet they want to play as, select their Neopet's name, select the color of their Neopet, and select which gender their Neopet should have.

B: What are some of the advantages of collecting the Petpets within the game?

SE: More Petpets equals more power, options, and variety! As mentioned previously, each Petpet provides a unique power for the player to use in the game, and selecting a complementary set of Petpets is a major aspect of strategic success. The more Petpets you collect, the stronger your offense and defensive options can be.

B: What are the main differences between the three versions of the game besides their basic controls? That is, are all game modes available in all versions of the game?

SE: The DS version of Neopets Puzzle Adventure features slightly different takes on the core "Battle" game as well as two other minigames. This is not just a "port" of the console or PC version – players can pick up multiple versions of the game and get a unique experience with each. The DS version also features a unique mini-game that takes advantage of the DS's touch screen features, called QuickDraw.

B: Will players have to be familiar with the Neopets universe before playing the game in order to get anything out of it (in terms of story, characters, etc.)? Or is the story and gameplay such that even newcomers could jump right in?

SE: This is a very approachable game, and is something that fans and people brand new to the Neopet's universe can enjoy.

The player's Neopet is a newcomer to the city of Shenkuu, so that anyone can pick up this game and enjoy the flavorful characters and settings that get introduced throughout the journey. The experienced Neopets fan will get more out of their knowledge of specific Neopets and Petpets, but anyone can enjoy the story.

As for gameplay, "Battle" definitely has some deep strategy. An experienced Reversi player is at somewhat of an advantage over someone new to the game, but the addition of Petpets and their unique powers as well as the Shockwave mechanic help to even the playing field a bit while opening up new avenues of strategic gameplay.

B: Even though Neopets may only seem to appeal to the prepubescent age group, there are actually thousands of adults like myself who find enjoyment in the universe as well. That being said, is this game suited more towards a younger audience, or is there enough difficulty to draw in older players as well?

SE: Story Mode was balanced with a younger audience in mind, but even the development team was challenged by some of the later levels. For players who want even more of a challenge, Instant Action Mode allows players to play on three different difficulties, the hardest of which should offer a good challenge for almost anyone. And if you're a Neopets Puzzle Adventure master, meaning never losing a match even in Hard mode, you can find an equally masterful friend to challenge head-to-head via local wireless multiplayer. Players of all ages and experience will find things they enjoy in Neopets Puzzle Adventure.

B: One of the biggest draws of the game seems to be the ability to earn codes redeemable on the Neopets website. Does the title come equipped with just a set amount of codes (for example, one for each level and then no more) or can you earn an infinite amount of codes simply by replaying the game?

SE: This is a VERY cool feature that we were really excited to offer! Each version of the game comes with 10 unique codes, which players can take to the Neopets website to obtain some really sweet freebies!

Each code has a different unlock requirement. On the DS, some of these can be gained just by playing through the single-player game, but others require much more effort to achieve. For example, obtaining a win by converting ALL of the opponent's tokens, or controlling all four walls (that is, all of the spaces along the walls have your token in them) in one game! It adds an extra level of challenge to the game, and is a great feature for Neopets fans new and old alike.

Neopets Puzzle Adventure is scheduled to be released this November on the PC, Wii and DS. Check back with us after the game's release for a full review.