Explore, Match, and Solve
At the heart of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a fairly simple game, a game very similar to the one that undergirded the series’ first entry (Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords). There is a circular playing field filled with hexagonal gems of various colors. You can swap adjacent pieces, but only if doing so completes a three-in-a-row line of a single color. Said line disappears, usually benefiting you in some way.
The only complicating factor is that it matters how you swap the tiles. For example, if two are arranged vertically and you move the bottom piece up, the board will shift up to replace the disappeared pieces, with random new pieces appearing at the bottom. If you move the top piece down, the same swap takes place and the same pieces disappear, but this time the new random pieces push in from the top. This requires the player to engage in some serious abstract thinking if they’re trying to make matches “cascade” into each other, especially with diagonal moves. It takes some practice to be able to predict the board’s shifts accurately.
Still, this sounds like a fairly manageable and simple timewaster, right? Yes and no: Galactrix imbues this basic puzzle with many different meanings, making you solve it in a variety of contexts to create a very long and involved science-fiction RPG. The quest comes complete with a story, complicated resource-management tasks, tons of ships and items to unlock, and even side quests.
Need to battle an enemy? Play the puzzle in a turn-based fashion, using the colored pieces to charge your shields, power up your weapons, and attack your opponent with items. Need to get to a different galaxy through a locked “leapgate?” Use the puzzle to “hack” the portal, a process that demands you match specific colors in a specific order in a given (and short) amount of time. Need to mine an asteroid for precious resources? Many of the tiles are blank, but you can match the tiles that contain resources until you run out of options and lock the board. How about haggling over a fair price for resources? Create as many matches as you can to get a better deal. Not sure if you have good information? Create a given number of matches without lining up three “nuke” tiles.
These adjustments to the gameplay work well for the most part, but we have two small complaints. One is that the games’ difficulties seem to ramp up at very different rates. It took us some time to find an enemy that could beat us, but even the “easy” leapgate hacks had us a bit frustrated from the get-go. That might be a play style issue: there’s no time limit during the battles, and we were pretty meticulous in choosing our moves, whereas taking one’s time is a sure way to a painful death when hacking a leapgate. Complaint number two is that when you make a match, it freezes up your controller for a brief second as some animations play out. Especially on the timed matches (where the timer doesn’t stop during the animation), it would be helpful to be able to set up your cursor for additional matches right away. There’s nothing more frustrating than being one match away from completing a puzzle, only to have time run out while you don’t even have control of the cursor.
At any rate, it’ll take many hours to complete the single-player campaign, which, depending on your outlook, either adds value to the game or makes it tedious. Even the simple act of selling your resources is more complicated than it seems, because each item is worth different amounts in different galaxies. In addition, no matter your play style, as you progress the puzzles become difficult enough that they’ll take a few tries. Sometimes you might even be inclined to go back and complete side missions to enhance your abilities.
Despite the RPG setup and gameplay twists, however, when it comes right down to it you’re solving the same puzzle over and over again. This isn’t at all conducive to the marathon playing sessions you’d need to beat this game in a few days. We suggest doing one or two boards at a time, before or after playing other games.
Handling Galactrix this way does take away from the story a bit, which is acceptable because the tale isn’t all that gripping. The narrative unwinds through still images of your character’s avatar and another’s, against the appropriate background, communicating to each other through cheesy text in quote bubbles. Basically, you’re fighting to learn about four megacorporations that took over humanity and are conducting questionable experiments. You can even skip the story completely by simply pressing the B button whenever these conversations pop up.
What the game lacks in graphics and story, however, it makes up in sound. The music is terrific: spacey-sounding orchestral works that fit the mood of the game and never, ever grate. Every puzzle game should be so lucky.
The controls here are workable; you pretty much just highlight gems with the joystick and press the A button. Moving diagonally with the joystick can be frustrating when you’re on a timer, but there’s really no better way to do it without a mouse, stylus, or pointer. Navigating between puzzles is a snap: just put your cursor on the target planet or galaxy and hit A, and your ship flies over.
Galactrix also features local and online multiplayer matches that pretty much go the same way single-player battles do. It’s fun enough to play the game this way, and you can use the pilot you’ve developed in the campaign, but it can be hard finding matches online.
When it comes right down to it, is Puzzle Quest: Galactrix worth $20? In terms of the hours and depth of gameplay, absolutely. However, it’s certainly a niche product; you’ll need to be a fan of both puzzles and RPGs to get your money’s worth, and you’ll have to be willing to solve a very similar puzzle over and over, whether you do them all in a row or over a period of weeks. If that sounds like a good idea, go for it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
They get the job done, but there’s nothing too impressive. 3.2 Control
They’re as good as they could be, but moving diagonally with a joystick can be a pain. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is great, but the lack of voiceover is a drag. 4.1 Play Value
It’s the same puzzle over and over again, but the game stretches the concept to cover all sorts of different twists and turns. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.