D3Publisher and Infinite Interactive struck gold when they released Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords on the Nintendo DS and PSP in 2007. The combination fantasy role-playing and 3-match puzzle game turned out to be wildly addictive. By the end of 2008 the game had appeared on every conceivable platform. Now the team at Infinite Interactive is looking to recapture that magic with its follow-up title, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.
The core design of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix isn’t all that dissimilar from Challenge of the Warlords, though the switch from fantasy to a sci-fi setting has brought with it inherent changes. There are no classes to choose from in Galactrix, you simply pick a male or female space cadet and off you venture into the galaxy. In place of cities, villages and dungeons, the galaxy is dotted with solar systems, planets, moons and space stations. And when you level up, you earn skill points that you can spend to increase your knowledge of gunnery, science, engineering and piloting.
Apart from the main quest and the many side quests, there are numerous activities to partake in. You can mine asteroids for raw materials that you can either sell at ports or use to craft items from blueprints found on downed spaceships. You can explore moons to gain a greater knowledge of the different races in the galaxy. You can haggle with merchants to purchase weapons and other space gadgetry for your spaceship at discounted prices. You’ll hack LeapGates so you can travel to new systems, and of course you’ll do battle with space pirates and other hostile factions.
Most of these activities trigger a variation of the 3-match puzzle game, which has undergone a significant change in Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. Gone is the 8x8 grid, replaced with hexes and a zero-G system that means not only can you swap gems in one of six directions, but the board will also shift depending on the direction in which the gem was swapped. The new puzzle mechanic adds a fresh layer of depth to combat, compared to the system used in Challenge of the Warlords, but the amount of luck involved has increased too, as massive combos link up at a much more frequent and deadly rate when new gems move onto the board.
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of content in Galactrix. Several factions inhabit the galaxy and while most are neutral to the MRI (the human faction of which you belong), some may become hostile depending on your course of action throughout the campaign. For instance you can mine contraband from asteroids or acquire it upon defeating an enemy ship, but most factions consider it an illegal substance and will attack you on site if you enter their system with it present in your cargo. On the other hand you can earn top dollar selling contraband in the right systems, and so it’s a risk you have to weigh.
There are a multitude of weapons and items to spend your credits on and equip your ship with, from lasers, bombs and missiles, to thrusters, repairs bots, shield generators and targeting devices. There are even items that alter the zero-G system during combat. But you have to be mindful of your spacecraft’s capacity for various equipment types. You can only equip as many weapons, computer and engine parts as your ship will allow. For example, while you can attach powerful weapons to a warship, you’re somewhat limited in terms of the computer and engine gear that such a ship can use. On top of all that there are even Psi powers in the game that you can take advantage of to avoid confrontation at the cost of Psi energy, which is accrued matching purple gems during battle.
One of the main gripes I have with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix are the LeapGates. The galaxy is linked by LeapGates. Ships use them to travel from one system to another. As the story begins, all of the LeapGates are offline. You have to hack the LeapGates in order to travel. Here’s the thing: There are dozens of systems in the galaxy, often with two or more LeapGates each, so you’ll end up hacking upwards of a hundred LeapGates during the course of the campaign and there isn’t much variety in the LeapGate hacking mini-game (unlike say combat, where encounters offer more variables), not to mention success at higher difficulty levels are entirely dependent on the quality of the starting board. It doesn’t take long before the LeapGates become a huge nuisance, just as the wandering monsters did in Challenge of the Warlords. I grew to hate LeapGates.
There are other, smaller issues as well. The story takes a fair bit of time to pick up steam and the campaign in general lacks personality. Enemies in Challenge of the Warlords were recognizable and offered skill sets unique to their creature type. In Galactrix, every Faction is a faceless group, represented solely by their spaceships. After you’ve played the game long enough, those spaceships start to blend together, leaving nothing to distinguish one enemy from another.
Multiplayer takes the form of Quick Battles, where players take their campaign-developed pilots and battle head-to-head locally or online. The Xbox Live Arcade version of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix offers a few more multiplayer-specific features compared to its Nintendo DS and PC counterparts. These include matchmaking, leaderboards and voice chat. While these features affect multiplayer in a positive way, for me it still remains more of an after thought to the lengthy single player campaign.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is one of those games that will have you saying, “Just one more quest, one more battle, one more level,” and then you look at the clock and wonder where the last several hours went. It shares that same highly addictive quality that Challenge of the Warlords displayed. It’s not quite as well-rounded an experience as its predecessor and it can be quite frustrating at times, but ultimately the role-playing and 3-match puzzle formula is still very much a winner here.