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Puzzle Quest Galactrix Impressions

Puzzle Quest Galactrix LogoI had a chance to start into the DS version of Infinite Interactive’s follow-up to the highly addictive 2007 puzzle/RPG hybrid over the past weekend. It will probably take me months to get through Galactrix so I've decided to just write up impressions based on the three or four hours I’ve spent with it so far.

The first thing to note about Puzzle Quest Galactrix is that both the field of play and gems have changed from square to hexagonal shapes. The other major change is that new gems enter the play field based on where you clear them out instead of always coming in from the top. The basic match-three gameplay remains intact and addictive as ever, though the new space-themed wrapper looses some of the original’s charm. Read More...

There is a brief introduction to the overarching story at the beginning, though just like the original Puzzle  Quest: Challenge of the Warlords I really haven’t been paying attention to it and usually end up skipping the story scenes altogether. They are presented using simple static portraits and text. I prefer the art in Galactrix to the original Puzzle Quest, though it tends to feel colder because of the darker space theme.

I was then presented with a map that was very similar to that in Puzzle Quest, though now each “level” is a planetary object in what I assume are solar systems (I haven’t encountered a sun yet). Places that have missions available are clearly marked with an “!”.  Some places will also allow you to sell loot (here called cargo), or allow you to travel to a different system.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix has four puzzle modes that I've come across so far. The first is the standard one-on-one battle.  The first battle got me used to the new, hex-based system. Just like in the original game, matching three or more red, yellow or green gems will help fill your special meters and allow you to use special attacks. Blue gems serve to repair your ship’s shield if you have taken any damage.

Matching white gems increases your Intel (experience), matching purple ones increases your Psi Meter (different experience?) and matching explosive gems (mines) will cause damage to your opponent. Matching five or more gems will give you an extra turn. If a cascade of four or more matches occurs, you will receive bonuses.

Gems will fall according to the way you move those you match and will enter the play field from one of six sides this time instead of “raining” from the top. This new method certainly takes some getting used to and feels just as random as the original system in Puzzle Quest.

Every time your character levels up you can choose to spend earned skill points in one of four areas: Gunnery, Engineer, Science and Piloting.  Each area is tied to a colour of gem and will provide bonuses to help with item use or shield strength.

In addition to one-one one battles, I have encountered matches that required me to clear a certain amount of coloured gems to advance. There are also matches that require clearing gems to make “super gems” which must then be cleared in order to build new items for your ship. Lastly, I have come across a few ‘hacking” levels, which I am not a fan of.

These levels allow you to fix Jump Gates and move from system to system. They require you to clear a set number of gems in a certain order, like purple, blue, white, yellow. These matches are timed, which has so far caused a lot of frustration for me.

The clock counts down continuously, even if a cascade is triggered. This often wastes 10-30 seconds out of an 85 second round, leading to many failed attempts. Compared to the puzzle levels for capturing creatures in the Puzzle Quest, these matches are a real step down and not very fun at all.

I have a couple more issues with Galactrix as well so far. The first is that this game looks and runs like a mobile phone game from 2005. Everything about the look feels “cheap” and lacks polish. Galactrix also seems to run at about five frames per second, despite not having any flashy effects.

My other issue is that for some reason this title is riddled with loading screens when doing just about anything. These loading sequences are generally only three or five seconds but they really seem out of place on a DS game, especially one this simple from a technical standpoint.

By transferring the setting to space, Galactrix looses some of the charm of its fantasy themed predecessor. Though the gameplay remains addictive and there is likely a huge amount of content beyond what I have discovered, I can’t help but feel like I really want to be playing Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords II. Galactrix almost feels like a cold, empty shell comparatively and this may hurt its appeal to the casual, female crowd that helped make the original so successful.