|System: X360, PS3, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Infinite Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 24, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
I was absolutely intrigued and utterly surprised by Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords when I reviewed it nearly two years ago. At the time, I felt a franchise could have been born; little did I know just how right I was.
As it turns out, the melding of traditional RPG mechanics with a solid, even original, take on the match-three puzzler made that game an instant classic. The only thing I wondered about going into this review was how a subsequent game in the series would keep things fresh. Thankfully, the great minds at Infinite Interactive succeeded in making this game, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, both familiar and new. The sci-fi setting, shifted game board, beautiful polish, interesting story, and solid touch-screen controls make this the ideal gaming experience for the Nintendo DS.
If you haven't played the original Puzzle Quest, the series is based on a familiar, jewel-based, match-three concept. Players (both human and CPU) take turns tapping pieces and matching them to others. Using the stylus to make your selections is ideal. Matched gems will then make the pieces shift and give each side a pool of resources with which to use against their opponent. Using unique skills and making enough explosive mine matches will wear down your rival's hit points to zero, giving you the victory.
Whereas the original game used a square grid with gems constantly falling from the top, Galactrix uses a circular board turned on an angle, allowing new gems to come in from anywhere. Players can use this to their advantage, as the board's gems will slide in the direction the last moved piece. Consequently, Galactrix employs even more strategy than was ever capable from the setup Challenge of the Warlords employed.
Also, Challenge of the Warlords used a fantasy setting. Therefore, gems were converted into mana, which were in turn converted into spells and special character abilities, augmenting the game board, causing status effects, and/or doing direct damage to a foe. This time around, the setting has switched to that of a sci-fi, space opera where competing earth-based factions and alien empires carve out their place in the galaxy. As such, gems are collected to enact technological powers for your ship rather than enable a specific character's abilities. Also, players have access to shields in this game. Whittling away at your enemy's regenerating, protective field means putting you're A-game together for some of the tougher opponents.
As a result, players will be constantly upgrading their ships' capabilities rather than leveling up an individual. Unlocking new ships, acquiring resources, and forging new technologies proves to be every bit as engaging as gaining power, finding loot, and training mounts was in the original. Moreover, the new twist keeps the game fresh, making it feel like a wholly new experience.
Like its predecessor, Galactrix offers several distinct flavors, called mini-games, of the same basic match-three, battle-puzzle mechanic. Depending on what missions you take or what the story calls for, players will have to use crew members to mine for resources, hack jump gates, craft new technologies, haggle for better prices, and gleen bits of key information via rumor gathering. Each mini-game has a slightly different twist to it that will challenge you by placing constraints upon the standard formula such as time, limited gems, etc. All of the puzzle types are very enjoyable, and they do a remarkable job of keeping players interested and incorporating the story portion of the title.
Speaking of the story, players should really enjoy the rich narrative. I especially liked the way the various factions in the game played upon one another. For example, defeating a faction's ship will cause you to lose faction points with that power group. If it gets low enough, you'll be constantly harried by these groups. On the other hand, help an organization out of a pickle and you will be rewarded by them for your actions. This also holds true with your own faction. For instance, transporting mined and confiscated cargo throughout the galaxy can be a lucrative business, but carrying contraband items can get you in trouble. This play between political groups and the way it affects the game helps set Galactrix apart from other puzzlers out there by making your actions and decisions meaningful outside of just the battle board.