Reviewed: June 16, 2009
Released: May 7, 2009
Most readers will know that I am a bit of a puzzle game junkie – but even so, I am always surprised at how much fun I still seem to have playing the umpteenth take on the match-three style of game. Whether it’s the more action-oriented ball shooters of the Zuma/Magnetica lineage, the hip musical box stackers of the Lumines/Meteos family, or just the plain old rotate and shift crystal arrangers of the Bejeweled/Hexic lineage, the match three puzzle games are amazingly simple, yet fantastically addictive.
The only downfall that I find with puzzle games is that they can tend to be a bit shallow – lacking any sense of purpose other than alleviating boredom. And that’s precisely why the Puzzle Quest series is one of the best in the genre – by adding a fun, yet simple, interactive RPG mechanic to the gameplay, the folks at Infinite Interactive have been able to introduce a level of depth and purpose seldom found in the puzzle genre.
While last year’s Puzzle Quest Challenge of the Warlords focused on the mystical Medieval times, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix takes the puzzle gaming into deep space with a story about a group of humans exploring space searching for a rogue experiment and meeting tons of space-pirate baddies along the way.
To be frank, the story is a bit overblown and silly, but it does help foster the RPG elements of the gameplay. But the fact that it is told through a series of static cardboard cutouts with overlay text boxes in sort of a goofy “All Your Base Belong To Us” sort of way, it really makes the cutscene portions a bit endearing.
Players navigate the various galaxies by pointing their cursor to the planets, asteroids, and leap gates strewn across each of the maps. All the while, the ship tracks the cursor as if tethered by a long rope and upon arrival at a given location, a popup dialog box gives gamers the various options for each planet – certain planets host battles, leap gates need to be hacked to open new galaxies, and asteroids are good for mining monetary units.
Regardless of the task at stake, at its heart Galactrix plays out simply a variant on Bejeweled. Whether the strategic battles, the timed mining sequences, or the ordered leap gate hacking, the entirety of Galactrix’s gameplay consists of playfield of multicolored blocks of which gamers swap neighboring blocks to try to form straight lines of three or more same-colors. Upon doing so, the matching chains disappear from the board, and new blocks fall in to fill the empty spots.
And that is where the Puzzle Quest battling comes into play, and Galactrix becomes more than another Bejeweled clone. Galactrix’s blocks consist of basically two types – mines and shields – that can be matched strategically to either attack enemies or repair their own ship. Gamers ride a fine line between fortifying their own ships, and whittling away at the enemies’ – some battles can last less than a minute, while others might stretch on for 15 minutes or more.
Certain ships feature special weapons and/or shielding – and upgrade can be purchased using spoils of battle and mined elements – which is where the RPG elements really pay off. But to be honest, nothing so far has been mentioned that is really all that different from Challenge of the Warlords. But rest assured Puzzle Quest fans, the folks at Infinite Interactive have done some really neat tweaking with Galactrix to make it seem like more than just another rehash of last year’s title.
The most noticeable change is the shape of the blocks, which now hexagonal offer six directions of movement rather than the traditional four. Coupled with these additional two degrees of freedom, is a “zero gravity” refill mechanic, which mimics the chosen swap direction to the re-filling direction of the eliminated bricks. I know it sounds confusing on paper, but in practice it makes a bit more sense – basically if the swap is made diagonally up to the right, the missing blocks will be refilled diagonally op to the right. This allows the gamer a bit more control in manipulating the board.
The overall feel is a much more developed sense of depth and interactivity than we find from the standard Bejeweled clone, and the fact that gamers can take their battles online via the PlayStation Network only adds to the game’s longevity.
Aside from the laughable 16-bit cutscenes, Galactrix’s visuals are actually quite nice – the solid block colors pop nicely against the dark spacey aesthetic, and the map screens are rendered in a birds eye 3D view similar to a Command and Conquer RTS title.
Galactrix’s audio package is likewise impressive – with one of the better orchestral scores, the game’s soundtrack is much more palatable than the standard puzzler MIDI tunes. The sound effects of blocks breaking and laser fire work well – but it was a bit of a bummer that the only voice acting we hear comes during battle in the form of a mainframe status indicator constantly reporting “Enemy shields destroyed” or “Ship’s hull damaged.”
As you can tell, I really had a great time with Galactrix – it is well worth the price of admission, and a recommendation for any puzzle game fan.