Puzzle Quest: Galactrix Review: The Final Frontier
“Puzzle Quest” was one of those games that I never thought I would find myself playing. Simply put, it’s the nerdiest game ever released that didn’t have the word “dungeon” or “dragon” in the title, and I just never expected it to be one of my favorite games of 2007. There was just something extremely enjoyable about the competition of the casual gameplay, mixed with the RPG elements that really drew me in. Sure, the story was bad, but they needed to give you some reason to go to battle to reassemble a dead minotaur. However you slice it, it’s one of the best genre bending games to come along in a very long time, so when “Puzzle Quest: Galactrix” was announced my ears immediately perked up, and I’ve been curiously following the development of the game, hoping that it would live up to its predecessor, and not put this amazing franchise into a sophomore slump by sending the game into space.
Right out of the gate “Galactrix” mixes up the “Puzzle Quest” formula by completely changing … well … everything. Aside from keeping the basic idea of using a “casual” game as a combat system, there’s not a whole lot of similarities between the two games. Sure, both games have RPG elements, and you have to work with other characters, and you have missions, but comparing “Galactrix” to the original “Puzzle Quest” is almost like putting “Mass Effect” up against “Oblivion”; they’re both a similar genre, but they’re galaxies apart. This doesn’t necessarily mean that “Galactrix” is a bad game by any means, but it does mean that fans of the original might get a little more than they bargained for in this iteration of the franchise; it’s most definitely not a sequel.
The game’s biggest, and most noticeable, change is the game board. Previously, the entire game was based around what was essentially a “Bejeweled” clone that incorporated magic spells. However, in “Galactrix” the board works in a different manner; instead of having all the gems fall from the top, they enter the board based on how the previous move was played. It’s a great take on the game, and it forces the player to think a whole lot more about, not only their moves, but how they execute them. Of course, this means that there’s going to be a lot more thinking involved, especially in multiplayer matches, but that’s never a bad thing, right? Other than that the game board remains pretty much the same, with the color of the gems representing your attack powers, experience, straight attacks on your opponent and your Psi powers. This blending of two genres was ground-breaking in the original, and its updated version carries over quite well.
One of the things that doesn’t make the transition so well is “Galactrix”’s map interface. Instead of having one giant map that represents everything in a given realm, the overview map in this game represents galaxies that your characters need to travel to, each consisting of their own planets and civilizations. Sure, it adds another layer of depth to the game, but there’s a good chance the player is going to feel like they are fumbling through a whole lot of interfaces just to travel around the game.
The graphics and controls in the game are well done, as both “Puzzle Quest” games are ideally suited for a stylus based system; just point and go. The game looks as good as you would expect for a DS puzzle game, with hand drawn characters, and detailed ships, “Galactrix” is pretty easy on the eyes, just as long as you’re okay with reading all of the game’s dialog.
The one thing “Galactrix” isn’t lacking is depth. There are so many different aspects of this game that you can delve deeply into, and you will need to as you make your way through the game’s story. On the surface, the story is significantly improved from the original, while it is still told through text based conversations over stagnant images of the character that are speaking, there is a bit more to grasp on to in “Galactrix” than in the original game. You play as a recent MRI (Multinational Resource and Investment) graduate who starts his or her (you get to choose) career by investigating pirate activity in a distant corner of the galaxy, and everything else snowballs from there.
Beyond the story, the game offers multiple layers of everything from ship customization to relationship building with your shipmates. It also includes a feature where you need to balance your character’s relationship with each of the game’s different factions – everything from space pirates to space marines. If you can stay on each faction’s respective good side, it will only make your journey easier in the end, and you’ll be able to travel more freely, and receive increased prices for the sale of your cargo.
While “Galactrix” is still a solid game across the board, it just doesn’t flow particularly well, mostly because there are loading screens everywhere, something that is quite out of place for a DS game. The first ten levels of your character seem to take forever while you explore the early stages of the game, as battles seem to be few and far between. And then, there’s the fact that you have to hack Leap Gates over and over just to get anywhere and it gets redundant, and tedious pretty quickly. It just continually felt like I was frustrated with the game because it wasn’t progressing at any kind of decent speed, yet, it somehow managed to never seem boring, just slow.
I commend D3 and Infinite Interactive for their advancement of this relatively new franchise, already branching out in wildly new directions, but I think they may have been reaching just a little too far with this version of the game. Don’t get me wrong, “Galactrix” is a good game in its own right, but part of the appeal of the original “Puzzle Quest” was the perfect balance between casual and hardcore. Unfortunately, this title tends to lean more heavily on the hardcore side of the scale. “Galactrix” is a fun game that will offer hours upon hours of gameplay, and will provide gamers a great value for their purchase, but fans of the original might not find what they were looking for in this follow-up. Hopefully the recently released Xbox Live Arcade version of the game will clear up some of issues with pacing, and prove that intergalactic gem battling can be just as fun as medieval gem battling.
“Puzzle Quest: Galactrix” was released on February 24th, 2009 for the DS and PC, and on April 8th, 2009 for Xbox Live Arcade. This review is based on the DS version.