Puzzle Quest Galactrix is a deep and addictive game that’s unfortunately hampered by many technical issues.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a sequel to 2007’s Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, which successfully combined the mechanics of the puzzle game Bejeweled and an RPG. While Galactrix’s core mechanics are faithful to the original Puzzle Quest title, developer Infinite Interactive has implemented new gameplay features to the existing design in both good and bad ways.
While Galaxtrix retains a Bejeweled style of gameplay, the board design has changed into something that resembles the puzzle game Hexic, where the puzzle grid is more of a circular shape and all the gems are hexagonal, allowing six potential movements instead of four. To supplement this design change, the developers also implemented a new gravity system, where the gems slide in from whichever direction the player made his move in the previous turn. The gravity system and additional possible moves adds an underlying strategy where players will try to force opponents to make less than desirable moves. Like the last Puzzle Quest title, Galactrix has an excellent combination of well-integrated role-playing and puzzle elements. Fans of puzzle games will quickly become addicted to the gameplay, while fans of role-playing games will appreciate the level of depth that is provided. The only major game design fault, which exists in all Bejeweled variants, is that luck is a big factor: sometimes a huge chain reaction will seem like a cheap move, or players will win matches that seem one-sided.
The main gameplay aspect of Galactrix is the combat. Players start off with a relatively weak ship and a basic weapon and can eventually purchase or craft new ships and ship parts. Ship parts can be classified in different ways: there are weapons that deal direct damage, manipulate the gems on the board in various ways, modify the gravity rules universally or for a specific player, and modify a player’s energy reserves. Each of these ship parts has different energy requirements, and each takes a predetermined number of turns to recharge (to avoid exploitation). Energy is gathered by matching at least three gems of the same color in battle. To cause damage to the opponent, players have to match mine gems—the sum of the numbers on the mine gems determine the damage inflicted. Like a traditional RPG, a player loses the battle if his HP drops to zero. Players eventually will earn PSI powers that help to avoid battles; unfortunately, when a PSI power is activated, it may freeze your game.
As players progress through the story campaign, they will meet new crewmembers. Each new crewmember opens up new missions in the campaign and new skills. Mining asteroids allows players to harvest resources, which can be used as materials to build new ship parts or sold for credits (money). Crafting allows players to create new ships or ship parts after they obtain plans and have enough materials to create them. Haggling lets players attempt to receive a percentage discount, or a bonus on selling parts that depends on how many gems are cleared in a puzzle. Gathering rumors provides some background story and mythos about the various races and factions of Galactrix; otherwise, it’s fairly useless. Hacking leap gates allows players to go from one part of the universe to another.
All of these skills can be classified as mini-games, since they all incorporate the same puzzle gameplay, except that they have minor variations in the rules. With an exception to hacking leap gates, all of these mini-games are optional within the campaign, however players are recommended to play them so that they can reap the rewards. By far the most tedious one is hacking leap gates, which is required to progress in the story. Unfortunately, since players are required to visit different sections of the galaxy to earn new missions and complete missions, there are about forty leap gates in Galactrix. What’s tedious with hacking these leap gates is that you have to clear a sequence of different-colored gems, and this sequence can be up to twenty gems long. The time limit (ranging from 80 to 120 seconds) can cause many forced retries to successfully hack the gates. To add insult to injury, if you pause the game with the start button, the timer continues to count down, so the only way to truly pause the game is to close the DS. Another frustrating part about leap gates is that they randomly deactivate, forcing players to hack them yet again.
The DS version of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is not technically impressive by any means. The graphics are predominantly static. There are very minor animations when a gem gets eliminated, and when this happens the framerate takes a big hit for a few seconds, which makes the game feel really sluggish. The sound design is very generic, featuring a forgettable sci-fi soundtrack with dull sound effects, and there are occasional glitches where the sound becomes garbled during a loading screen. Galactrix also features something that isn’t seen in a lot of DS games: loading screens. Each time the game has to load something, it takes about four seconds to do so, and anything you do outside of battle triggers one of these loading screens, whether you are going to a map screen, your inventory, or a battle.
The biggest problem in Galactrix is the controls. While a touch screen interface is normally an ideal choice for this type of game, it isn't when the interface is full of glitches. Usually the game registers a tap correctly, but sometimes a tap is misinterpreted, which causes a lot of frustration. On the map of the galaxy, you have to drag the stylus to see the other portions of the map; occasionally the direction you drag is misinterpreted, causing the map jump randomly. Sometimes when you try to select something in a menu it will not register, and if this happens on a map, your spaceship will randomly go around in a circle and then drift off to a random direction off the map. During puzzles, sometimes the wrong gem will register; if this happens in battle, it counts as an illegal move with a penalty of 5 HP and a lost turn.
Ultimately, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a great and addictive game that has a lot of deep gameplay and strategic elements. Some Puzzle Quest fans will like the new gameplay implemented in Galactrix, and some fans will dislike them. The game lasts for 20 hours or so, depending on how players pace themselves with the main story. There is also a multi-card multiplayer mode, which allows two players to battle each other with one of their ships from the single player campaign. However, the DS version is just riddled with frustrating technical issues that will bog down the experience.