Developer: Infinite Interactive
Release Date: Q4 2008
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was one of those games that slipped under the radar. Released for the DS and PSP, not a lot of people paid attention to it until they actually got a chance to play it. Once they did, they found that Puzzle Quest was one of the most unbelievably addicting games to come out in the past few years, mixing a well-designed and enjoyable puzzle element with the fun of building up an RPG character. Even nagging problems like a fairly consistent freezing glitch and a slightly cheating AI couldn't reduce the overall fun of the game, and before long, it was ported to every system under the sun, seeing releases on everything from the PS2 to Xbox Live Arcade. With such an addictive and intelligent game design, it's no wonder that sequels and spin-offs are on the way. While the first sequel Puzzle Quest: Revenge of the Plague Lord is already available on XBLA, gamers' eyes should also be focused on the upcoming sci-fi spin-off, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.
Galactrix trades in the fantasy for science fiction, but the basic concept is simple enough that Challenge of the Warlords veterans should be able to jump right in. You're placed in control of a novice pilot who is sent to investigate a mysterious set of experiments being performed by an ubercorporation, and you must do so by traveling to multiple solar systems and following the path of the information you find. You begin in a dinky ship in a small planetary system, but as you travel from planet to planet, you'll find new information and new paths to other solar systems. Along the way, you'll be getting into a lot of fights because there are pirates, mercenaries and other ne'er-do-wells who have made it their goal to stop you from uncovering the truth. You'll have to use your dinky little ship to blow them into space dust.
The basic gameplay in Galactrix hasn't changed much from Challenge of the Warlords. As with the previous title, combat in Galactrix is basically an RPG battle where combat is decided by solving puzzles. You're thrown onto a puzzle screen filled with multicolored blocks that you can move around, alternating turns with the other player, in a goal to match at least three of the same block together. Doing so clears the blocks and causes new ones drop in; it also adds the color of the block you just cleared to your character's "systems," which function as a special ability that is powered by successfully completing block chains. Your eventual goal is to line up a number of "mine" blocks to damage your opponent's health bar. Each mine block has a number on it, and the higher the number, the more damage done to the opponent when you match them. Of course, your opponent will be trying to do the same to you, so strategy is key.
The major addition to Galactrix is gravity. If you're fighting over a planet, the gameplay is fairly close to Challenge of the Warlords. Any time you clear a series of blocks, all of the blocks will fall downward to fill in the gap. However, in space, there is no gravity, so any fight in space causes the blocks to drop in the direction of your last move. They can come from the top, bottom or either side of the screen, which completely alters the tactics you can use.
The four colors in the game each correspond to one of your ship's systems: Blue is shields, red is weapons, yellow is engines and green is computers. Clearing blocks of that particular color adds power to those systems, which is in turn used to activate special weaponry and equipment. Most of the weapons and equipment correspond to a particular kind of ability, depending on their color of focus. Red-powered weapons, for example, do damage to your opponent without requiring block movement. Yellow, which corresponds to engines, provides self-buffs and improvements, while green alters the game board and blue is a bit of a wildcard and has a bit of everything.
Depending on how you want to play, you'll want to build your ship to take advantage of a particular attribute. If you want to utterly crush your opponent's defenses, you may want to build a weapon-focused ship, but if you plan to be a bit more subtle, a yellow or green build might be more sensible. Thankfully, one interesting change from Challenge of the Warlords is that you can now have more than one distinct build at once. You can have up to three ships at once, each of which can be given its own unique set of parts, which means you can alter your combat stance depending on the situation instead of slamming your head against a particularly nasty opponent simply because you chose to play a Druid, which was the case in Challenge of the Warlords.
Your pilot is a completely separate creature from your ships, and you can build him up in other ways. Collecting purple blocks during the battles garners psi points, which improve your pilot's psi powers. Once you've gained enough points, you can level up your psi powers to take advantage of their unique abilities. While the demo didn't go into too much detail about psi, we know that the level directly influences the kind of random encounters you'll face. A pilot with low psi power will end up getting in a lot of random fights, while a pilot with high psi power can use his mental powers to force weak enemy pilots to stay away.
As with Challenge of the Warlords, you're going to be able to do a lot of things in between fights. While the demo we saw was fairly limited, we got a pretty clear idea of the side-quests you'll be able to perform. For one, you'll mine asteroids and various other pieces of space debris in order to get rare minerals. You do this by playing a single-player version of the above mini-game where the goal is to reach a certain score rather than defeating your opponent, sort of like the crafting in Challenge of the Warlords. In addition to this, you'll also be able to trade, taking minerals from one world to another for a profit, or perform diplomatic actions to turn planets to your side. The exact mechanics of these two were not shown, but I think we can safely assume that diplomacy won't be too different from capturing cities in Challenge of the Warlords.
More Puzzle Quest is never a bad thing, and Puzzle Quest: Galactrix looks to be continuing the fine tradition of Challenge of the Warlords. The gameplay is just different enough to keep things fresh while retaining the same gameplay that made Challenge of the Warlords so addictive. The space setting is a refreshing change from the fantasy world, and a lot of the minor nagging problems from the first game appear to have been fixed. In particular, the ability to have three builds is certainly going to reduce gamers' frustration when encountering particularly resistant opponents in Challenge of the Warlords. Puzzle Quest Galactrix looks to be a completely worthy addition to a blossoming franchise.
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