In space, no one can hear you clear a row of jewels.
In the future, when space travel has opened up unknown realms of the universe and alien civilizations sprawl out before humanity, conflicts between species will be solved with Bejeweled. This is the main tenet of the newest Puzzle Quest game which, if you haven’t figured it out already, takes place in the vast reaches of space. There’s a plot, I guess, and an irritating RPG structure, and an incredibly annoying map system, and Bejeweled.
You take on the role of a more-or-less freelance space jockey, running errands for various interplanetary species, repairing warp gates, mining planets for resources, and doing battle with space pirates. All of this is accomplished, miraculously, by shifting honeycomb-shaped jewels around on a board. The trick is that each task requires a different variation on the main game. Mining requires you to make as many matches and chains as possible before locking the board (no more matches can be made). When repairing a warp gate, you need to match colors in a specific sequence in an allotted time. Fighting enemy ships has you and the baddie taking turns chaining combos and blowing up bomb blocks to deal damage to the opposition. The Bejeweling itself is a lot of fun, but all of the fluff surrounding it detracts from the experience.
You’ll do a lot of reading, talking, and guiding your ship icon around a whole slew of identical maps, tapping on planets to proceed with tasks. You’ll equip items to your ship, or read about your shipmates, or sell mining resources for cash which you use to buy new items. You’ll fly from one planet to the next, one warp gate to the next, doing the exact same tasks for the entire game. Completing missions and defeating opponents nets you experience which you can use to level-up your pirate-fighting skills. Vs. battles have you managing several colored energy bars (which are replenished by matching like-colored jewels) corresponding to shield strength, HP, and various weapons levels. You use weapons to deal damage directly, replenish your shields, or drain enemy weapon levels. The Bejeweling itself takes a backseat to resource management, which is problematic. The difficulty of pirate battles ramps up quickly, but it’s not because the Bejeweling itself is any harder; the enemies just have more shield strength, higher HP, and items that damage you without relying on bomb blocks. Leveling up attempts to remedy this problem. When you level up, you are allowed to add attribute points to particular areas, which just means that when you clear a certain jewel color in Vs. battles, you’ll get so many more points for that resource color. For example, if you invest heavily in Shields, clearing three blue jewels (which would normally net you three shield points) gives you six points instead.
Something I don’t like about Bejeweled, as opposed to other puzzlers like Panel de Pon, is that you’re not free to “set up” chains. The only allowable moves are those which clear a row of jewels, so chains are more of a random occurrence. Still, getting a nice chain is always thrilling, even if you weren’t able to meticulously engineer its occurrence.
The touchscreen interface leaves something to be desired, too. I often had to press a desired area unusually hard to get blocks to swap spots, and there were some places where blocks would swap the wrong spots when I didn’t tap that spot in the first place, which in Vs. battles leads to a penalty. When navigating menus on the galactic map, tapping an option would sometimes close the menu and send my ship flying away at great speed instead, which is both puzzling and annoying. There were many times when it took several tries to make the menu option work.
The game offers two-player multi-card play, but it might be hard to find somebody with another copy of the game. Online battles would’ve been appreciated. The game would’ve been better as a stand-alone Bejeweled cart, with traditional game types like Endless, Time Attack, Vs., etc. As it stands, Galactrix adds way too much unnecessary clutter to the core puzzle game. I know that’s kind of the point, but it just comes off as being unnecessary.