Developer: Infinite Interactive
Release Date: February 24, 2009
About two years ago, the first Puzzle Quest game arrived for the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS to very little fanfare. Despite the glowing reviews that preceded the game's shelf date, very little advertising was done for the puzzle/RPG hybrid. Sensing that the community wouldn't exactly buy into the idea, D3Publisher didn't print as many copies of the title, hoping that the run would be enough for the niche audience for which it was aiming. No one expected the title's high demand. D3Publisher made more copies of their sleeper hit and commissioned more ports of the game. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords has made it to just about every gaming console, PC, and mobile phone out there, with new fans discovering the addictive nature of the game every day.
We now have Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, which has a space motif but is more of a re-tooling than a re-skinning of the ideas presented in the original. The game still rocks on the Nintendo DS, but a few quirks prevent this version from being as great as its predecessor. The premise behind Galactrix is fairly similar to the original. As a fresh graduate from the MRI corporation agency program, your initial task is to rid the local solar systems of the pirates who have been stealing from space miners. You quickly discover that the pirates are just a small part of a grander scheme. Your mission then transforms into a quest to prevent the universe from falling into the hands of a great evil that has never been seen before.
The story is definitely better this time around. The game still has most of the story told through character dialogue, but there are now short movies that also help convey the story. It's also not as forced, either; unlike the first game, your character isn't immediately told of the great evil force and you aren't repeatedly told about it by everyone you meet, which gives the story a greater impact.
Aside from traveling between solar systems, everything done in the game is handled through puzzles, whether it's combat, hacking a LeapGate, haggling for a bargain, or mining for resources. Upon seeing the board for the first time, users immediately think that the game will play like Hexic HD, the puzzle game that came with every Xbox 360 HDD, but it's more of a hybrid of Hexic HD and Bejeweled. Players are given a circular board full of colored hexagons and mines, and the object is to swap colored hexagons in order to make a match of three or more in a vertical or diagonal fashion. Each move must create a match, or a turn is forfeit and your spaceship takes damage. Empty spaces are filled in by hexagons that are pushed in from the direction in which you moved the first selected gem. Unless told differently, each player takes turns making matches, and the winner is the one who depletes the opponent's energy first.
Like the previous title, Galactrix adds so much more to the game than one would think. Matching colored hexagons gives you a number of that color's energy so that you can use special items or level up your character. The special items are either purchased or created, and each one requires a specific amount of colored energy to power up. Items can then be used to attack the enemy or put up your own defenses. Leveling up is done by winning matches or collecting experience on the board. The process allows you to increase your starting energy in combat as well as increase the amount of colored energy gained from a hexagon match. As mentioned before, players take turns when matching hexagons or mines, giving the game a strategic element, since any match can hinder the opponent's progress or give him a match that's good enough to take away a significant chunk of your energy.
The scope of Galactrix has been beefed up. While the previous game had you traveling from area to area in what was essentially a small world, this game has an entire galaxy to go through. While that may not seem like much considering the theme of the game, consider this: The galaxy consists of over 70 solar systems. Each solar system has several different areas to go through, such as outposts and mining asteroids and planets. With all of those areas where a puzzle battle can potentially take place, the game has easily doubled in scope from its predecessor.
The original game was notorious for its difficulty level and that aspect has not changed in the sequel. More often than not, you can find yourself getting pummeled by the enemy in early levels, thanks to the lucky breaks he always seems to be getting. The difficulty eases up a bit once you start leveling up, but frustration can set in early if you aren't prepared. Luckily, every mode, whether it's multiplayer or the single-player quest and quick play, lets you level up your character, so if you find yourself having trouble in quest mode, quick play and multiplayer can be your saviors.
All of the above statements make Galactrix sound like the perfect sequel, but while the sheer scope of the game might dismay some people, the presence of load times will disappoint more than a few. Not many Nintendo DS games feature load screens, so the fact that a load screen occurs just before and after every fight is a little unsettling. This is amplified by the fact that the original game didn't feature any load screens at all, making players wonder exactly what's causing the load screens this time around.
The other issue people will run into is the screen layout. For some reason, while the top screen does a great job of showing off your stats, the bottom screen constantly shifts back and forth to display the available weapons and powers of the active user. It's a little helpful if you have trouble figuring out whose turn it is, but it becomes a burden when you're trying to figure out what weapons and abilities the opponent has. Considering that the shift wasn't in the original title, the change to the game is a bit odd for veteran players.
The controls are very simple and easy to learn. Just about everything from ship movement to menu selection to hexagon swapping is handled by the touch-screen. The only action ever needed is to tap on the screen, so Galactrix can easily be grasped by players of different skill types. The only issue here is the accuracy of the screen in comparison to the game. There were a few times when menu selection wasn't read clearly by the game, resulting in the ship moving to another destination. Although this occurred on the map screen, the actual game didn't suffer from such bugs, so the experience remained enjoyable enough.
Graphics in a puzzle game aren't supposed to be very flashy, but what you get here is very good. The colors of the board are vibrant and show little hints of detail that can clearly be seen in the PC iteration. Character portraits and backgrounds are simple but effective images, while the effects for gem matches and mine explosions get the job done nicely. Overall, there's nothing to complain about here.
The sound in Galactrix is excellent, though there is something sorely missing. The sound effects are nice and clear, and the music is as rich as it was in the previous game, with a haunting melody that you'd usually find on a more powerful machine. Unfortunately, the DS' speakers tend to crackle when this occurs, so you'll have to plug in a set of headphones if you want to hear the full majesty of the track. While all of this is great, there is no voice acting in the game, so fans of the original will feel a bit saddened when they win or lose and get no vocal recognition for the accomplishment.
The issues with loading and presentation make the predecessor, Challenge of the Warlords , the better of the two titles as far as Nintendo DS gamers are concerned. However, the amount of content here in Puzzle Quest: Galactrix and the difficulty of the game make it leagues better than most other titles you'll find on the portable system. Most importantly, while the rules of the main game have changed, the fun and addictive nature still come through. If you can tolerate the short load times and slightly finicky touch-screen on the maps, you'll have plenty of fun with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.
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