D3’s Dorks, Dealers and Double-Ds event made much of Galactrix, even if they did designate it as the “dork” portion of the evening.

Two PCs and four DS stations were set up for gamers to go head-to-head in multiplayer or take a stab at story mode.

The PC demo had already dropped earlier that day, so I went straight to the DS and loaded up story mode. I’m not sure how I feel about the “two-faced bad guy calling himself a god” plot, but the cut scenes were at least rendered decently on the DS – and I didn’t even have to strain to read the text.

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The way Galactrix works is like an adventure game where you go around the galaxy completing quests for different factions. Of course each “quest” is really a game of Bejeweled, just like Challenge of the Warlords. What’s different here is that the board is a funky hexagon shape and pieces fall in the direction you move a gem. It’s not like Hexic – where you can score by connecting a cluster of gems from any side – because you’re still trying to make linear strings of gems.

This adds a whole degree of difficulty to the game because the board is bigger and the gems don’t fall straight down. Among other things, this means four of a kind doesn’t cut it for a free turn anymore – you need five of a kind – and it’s way harder to get crazy XP-earning chains called Novas or Supernovas. It also means things can go way wrong or incredibly well very quickly.

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For example, I won one battle with two moves. The first was to connect four mines together to deliver a blow to the opponent (like connecting skulls in Warlords, having four of a kind awards an additional damage bonus to to the base multiplier). As it happened, the mines had all gained multipliers by sitting on the board for a turn – jumping from one damage point to three. So I did a much larger amount of damage than I expected, taking out the enemy’s shield in just that first move.

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Shields are a big deal in Galactrix. The shield is a separate health bar that can be replenished by connecting blue games. Having a shield up even when you’re down to single-digit hit points can save you from some of the worst attacks in the game – up to and including cheap shots from the computer where five of a kind mines drop randomly.

Which is exactly what happened on my next turn. The AI tried to shore up its shields by using a Shield Matrix “item” (read: spell) to generate a few points worth of protection and then connected some blue gems for a little more. Then it was my go and I swapped a red gem leftwards for a three of a kind that turned into first a Nova chain – where you generate a x2 multiplier for all the gems you collected – and then into a Supernova chain which actually got me an extra turn and an x3 multiplier.*

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*If you look at that screen, the Nova seems to say “extra turn awarded” – but I’m pretty sure that’s just for the five of a kind and not for the Nova. Every time I scored Nova I was not awarded an extra turn.

This long chain spawned like several three of a kind mine connections and dropped a five of a kind, which totally destroyed my opponent’s remaining shields and his hit points. I left the battle with some acquired cargo (used in crafting), a minus 10 faction score for the guys I’d just pwned and the sincere hope that the game is still being tweaked for balance. I can't imagine how high my blood pressure would be if that kind of thing kept happening to me instead of the AI.

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I messed around a little more on the DS, noting how hard it is to catch up with some of those ships using the stylus. I’m to understand that plenty of battles come from just clicking on planets and selecting the “Fight the pirates” option, but if you actually want to run down a ship cruising the galaxy, you need to build yourself a fast engine or figure out how to intercept them on their flight pattern.

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At last I was ready for the PC multiplayer. I’d been avoiding it because Carolyn Gudmundson over at GamesRadar was dominating the table and she eats Puzzle Quest for breakfast. But, lucky me, she decided she’d be on my side and coach me through two battles against another games journalist. I won the first one in a pretty evenly matched battle. That second one was going well until the other guy figured out how to use the Dark Laser – a.k.a. cheapest item in the game.

I don’t have much else to say for the multiplayer besides I think it’s strange that I can see what gem my opponent has selected before he’s moved it. Doesn’t that take some of the fun away, if I have an idea of what he’s going to do before he does it?

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The DS version of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix ships February 24. The PC demo is out now and – like all the other platform releases – is slated for a “Spring 2009” ship date.