The follow up to 2007's smash hit Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Galactrix takes the blend of role-playing mechanics and puzzle game to a whole new frontier, replacing the fantasy role-playing adventure of the first title with a galaxy-spanning space epic. With the new story and setting comes an entirely new hexagonal game board channeling Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov's Hexic rather than Popcap's Bejeweled.
So can a game that replaces the story, setting, and core gameplay of the first title maintain its addictive charm? Or has Puzzle Quest: Galactrix's galactic journey strayed too far off course?
Rules Of Engagement: In general, the new hexagonal game board in Galactrix is a refreshing change from the simple dropping down mechanic from the original Puzzle Quest, and the shift from fantasy archetype to spaceship has been handled quite well. New additions to the winning formula, like the ability to recharge your shields and having multiple ships with different configurations at your command, further distance Galactrix from its predecessor. This isn't simply Puzzle Quest in space.
Strategic Choices: As mentioned above, the player can have multiple ships outfitted with different devices and weapons, allowing them to have a ship on hand that's suited for any enemy you may encounter. You might stumble over the first few fights with the Keck, for instance, until you realize that outfitting your ship with a shield disrupter disables their ships' frustrating shield regenration, making combat a breeze. It takes skill and reasoning to navigate this sometimes hostile galaxy.
Buy, Sell, And Trade: Trading is a big part of any good space game, from Origin's classic Privateer to CCP's massively multiplayer EVE Online. Once the Galactrix universe opens up a bit, a player can make a tidy sum by determining which cargo sells best in which port. If you want the best ships and equipment, mining and working the market are essential. It's just a simple little feature, but it adds a great deal to the overall experience.
Space, The Tedious Frontier: The entire Puzzle Quest: Galactrix galaxy is connected together by devices called leap gates, and in order to get anywhere in the game you're going to have to hack them...over and over again. Hacking them consists of completing a series of color matches within a time limit, and they honestly wouldn't be so bad if not for two factors. First, there is no reward at all for opening leap gates, other than simply opening up a new area. No experience, no cash, nothing. Second, the timer doesn't stop when you are matching colors, so creating long chains of matching colors, an activity that generally helps you during the main game, becomes a huge hindrance, eating your time and causing you to start the whole process over again.
The Luck of the Draw: While a certain amount of luck was present in the original Puzzle Quest, Galactrix's game board refills in the direction you moved your last gem to complete a grouping, which could be any direction whatsoever. While this is an enjoyable mechanic during solo activities like mining, bartering, and crafting, during actual combat it replaces a large chunk of the skill element with sheer luck. You could be the best strategist in the world, and you'd still find yourself randomly losing battles due to a random lucky series of drops for your opponent. It's extremely frustrating to be sitting there with full hull and shields with your opponent on their last legs, only to suddenly find yourself defeated thanks to a ridiculous stream of randomly generated exploding mines.
Stale Tales of Space Adventure: The bland storyline of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix could have been saved by a colorful cast of characters and some witty dialogue, but instead we are presented with a series of outer space stereotypes; cardboard cutouts who seem to serve no more purpose than to unlock the various side-games and occasionally deliver the odd bit of exposition. The original Puzzle Quest was no fantasy epic, but it was certainly more entertaining that this.
Can I Have Your IP Address?: If you're looking for online multiplayer in Galactrix, you're probably better off waiting on the Xbox Live Arcade version, as the PC version only supports two types of multiplayer: LAN and direct connection via IP address. It's essentially the PC equivalent of having to exchange Wii Friend Codes.
Where the original Puzzle Quests was a sublime symphony of balance in which the player could chose to play the game as they liked, Galactrix tends to be a bit more loose with the balance and heavy on guiding you on your path. Battles are often won by luck rather than any amount of skill, creating more moments of frustration than giddy triumph over impossible odds. Whereas the original game allowed you to pick and choose which mini-games you participated in, Galactrix throws countless gate hacking obstacles in your way, offering little reward other than letting you move to the next section of the map. Add to that the lack of distinct character classes, an uninteresting story, and the fact that leveling provides so little in the way of character customization that players have already created their own mods to fix it, and you've got a game that falls well short of the original's greatness.
I played through the original Puzzle Quest on four different platforms, and loved every minute. This will more than likely be my only play through of Galactrix. There's plenty of enjoyment to be had, but frustrating design and an overall lack of choice means this star trek is a one-way trip.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix was developed by Infinite Interactive and published by D3 Publisher, released on PC on February 24th. Retails for $19.99. Also available on Nintendo DS for $29.99. Played single player story to completion, could not participate in multiplayer.
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