Review: Puzzle Quest Galactrix

For fans of puzzlers and casual games, the original Puzzle Quest was a godsend. Combining the convenience of take-along gaming, Bejeweled-like imagery, and an intriguing medieval tale, it provided hours of satisfying role-playing goodness. Even the most discerning fans of the genre were pleased by its slick presentation, innovative controls, and challenging difficulty curve. After a successful run on the major consoles and corresponding handhelds, the series has nowhere to go but up, both literally and figuratively. Puzzle Quest Galactrix marks the franchise’s foray into outer space; forsaking the medieval storylines in favor of something a bit more futuristic. This change in landscape and tone has brought about a few changes, and not for the better.

War has obliterated the Earth after years of grueling combat. Indomitable corporations have risen from different fallen societies and have assumed ownership of the human race and its future. Survivors who are unwilling to fall victim to the tyrants take to the skies to find new lives in space. Upon arrival they quickly realize that the heavens are home to thousand of other species and cultures, some not as friendly as the survivors could have hoped. Though mankind is slow to get its sea legs in this new territory, adapting soon comes simple. Thus, Galactrix opens years and years after mankind’s integration into the races and societies of space.

Choosing a starter character will kick things off. Though the previous Puzzle Quest offered a variety of archetypes, you are faced with only the decision between two pilots: male or female. As gender has no bearing on the gameplay, it makes no difference which you choose. The newly-created pilot will be briefed on Galactrix’s initial storyline, which consists of locating an experiment gone awry. From here, a familiar road is forged. Similar to the original Puzzle Quest, gamers travel through the galaxy to complete several different quests.

As far as the base mechanics go, this is your typical matching game. Rows of jewels in different hues must be matched in threes or more. Rather than Challenge of the Warlords’ four-direction-swaps, the new hexagonal shapes allow for moves in six different directions. Keeping in mind that Galactrix is placed in a stellar stage, there is no gravity. Thus, pieces will reappear from any point on the board. While this can be an intriguing alteration to core gameplay, it can also become quite frustrating. Because of the flow of gravity, massive combos are now more likely to occur. This shifts the tide of combat immensely, as the already dubious AI can now respond with a flurry of devastating combos. During a match that could boast chess-like precision and strategy, one bad move in tile placement could decide a win or a lose. This happens a fair amount of times during an hour or two of enjoying the game and is maddening. There is nothing so frustrating as losing a match for a reason so lowly as a strategically-placed tile.

Ships lose hit points off of their hulls, and shields have been added, making defenses that last just a bit longer than usual the norm in each match. Spells have been removed in lieu of more practical items that may be equipped before battles, but the items do work nearly the same as items always did. Items can be bought and sold and contribute to the economy on Galactrix. A system similar to what was seen in Gazillionaire is now in place. While it worked well in the former, in Galactrix it serves to bog the gameplay down even more than the frustrating matches. Keeping track of the economy in different locations is just as painstaking as monitoring our own.

Though these parts offer less fun than gem battles, they are still imperative, as keeping a competent ship is integral. Think of your ship as your avatar rather than a pilot and all will become clear – apparently this was the reason behind the severely limited character choices. If you don’t feel the drive to keep up with economies or what items sell for more or less money, at least make an attempt for a faster or stronger ship. Blueprints can occasionally be located to hasten the process, as well as to aid you in enhancing your “character.” Repetitive as it may be, this type of leveling is imperative – otherwise your progress in Puzzle Quest: Galactrix will be hindered quite drastically.

When battles aren’t being waged and the intergalactic stock market isn’t of gamers’ primary concern, there are a few minigames that offer momentary respite from the game’s lackluster pace. These concern hacking and making jumps throughout space, and while they only tend to hold attentions for a few minutes, it’s a welcome break in the monotony.

Like the Wii, the DS also has its technical shortcomings readily apparent in games that would seem the most logical candidates for gimmicks. The touch screen is responsible for most of the game’s actions. It is too bad then, that half of the input you will make via the stylus will not register properly. This is a glaring flaw that should have been taken note of long before the game’s release.

As Puzzle Quest fans will note, this game is by no means a short one. It can take upwards of 40 hours to fully complete – that is, if you can stand it that long. An uninspired story, bland characters, and lackluster environments just aren’t worth sticking with for long periods of time, making this an exercise in the mundane.

Galactrix has been released on many other, much more glamorous platforms, so it goes without saying that the DS is graphically inferior to each one. Textures are flat and bland, and there is little or no animation. Sprites are at least presentable and detailed, but do little else but flash onscreen during conversations to look handsome. Interfaces seem cold and tasteless, giving the game an unfortunate sterility that was unheard of in the previous game. As for the ears, they are treated to sweeping orchestral movements that wouldn’t be out of place in the next sci-fi blockbuster. At least that is one area that truly excels.

Puzzle fans undoubtedly had high hopes for the next entry into the series, but Puzzle Quest Galactrix ends up failing to impress. Its asinine combat, overhaul of familiar gameplay, and blacklisting of different character classes add nothing to the adventure. Without characters along who truly elicit emotions, interesting plotlines, or redeeming qualities other than the normal addictive puzzle aspect, Galactrix is one you may want to speed right on past. As for the next Puzzle Quest title, here’s to hoping the series returns to the dark ages.

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