Puzzle Quest: Galactrix - Staff Review  

Lost In Space, Not In Translation
by Aaron "Slates" Slater

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20-40 Hours
+ An innovative puzzle battle system
+ Sidequests and diverse gameplay
+ Extensive customization options...
- That make little difference in action.
- At its heart, it's still just match three.
- Lackluster plot, graphics, and sound effects.
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   "Alienated" is a standout track from Keri Hilson's debut album that takes the trite breakup song formula and re-energizes it with intergalactic allusions. With some slick production and fun lyrics, "Alienated" takes what could have easily been a filler track and makes it single worthy. It's a shame then, that backing something so typical and mundane with spaceships and aliens isn't necessarily the key to creating a hit. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix takes the simple premise of Bejeweled and sends it into outer space, only to discover that it's still a casual game disguised in an ill-fitting space RPG costume.

   The story of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is nothing to write home about. As a young space cadet fresh out of the academy you're assigned to a rather desolate part of the galaxy. While trying to understand why an exemplary student would be left to fester in the middle of nowhere, strange events start happening across the universe. From this corner of space begins a journey to determine the cause behind the chaos. If it sounds interesting, it's because it genuinely could be, but Galactrix fails to elaborate upon its premise. The story is served in small chunks between bouts of Bejeweled-style gaming, with no flair in terms of writing or delivery. While there is an interesting history of man's rise into space, and many different factions with their own motives, nothing is ever done with them. The whole story instead feels like a string of science fiction clichés, complete with clones and aliens and man playing God and whatnot. There are a few twists here and there, but when the entire universe (your party included) feels like it's populated by selfish bores; it's hard to feel compelled to save them.

A galaxy without limits for you to run fetch quests through. A galaxy without limits for you to run fetch quests through.

   Fortunately, the game itself offers quite a bit of variety for what essentially boils down to a spruced up version of match three. The puzzle board for Galactrix is six-sided this time around, populated by other multi-colored hexagons. In battles, these colors will fill gauges on your ship, allowing you to use different attacks. Red, numbered mines when lined up do damage to an enemy, while silver hexagons grant the player additional experience. Much like its predecessor, Galactrix offers other versions of play. When hacking gates to move from one solar system to the next, the player must match three in a designated sequence. When bartering for items, the player must try to make as many matches as possible as "unmatchable" blocks slowly encroach the board. Mining requires the player to match specially designated hexagons to gain resources that they can use to create new items or sell for money.

   There's a surprising amount of strategy to be found in Galactrix. The game offers an extensive array of ships, some better suited for battle while others for gathering materials to sell or create new items. Galactrix allows you to keep three ships at one time, and switch between them as necessary, which allows for a nice bit of flexibility. There are also countless weapons and weapon types. Some weapons will directly damage the enemy, while others will destroy hexagons of a certain color or cause the enemy to miss a set amount of turns. The customization options for your ship are quite vast, and there's a lot of fun to be had tinkering around with your fleet.

Take that pirates! You pay for the new Keri Hilson album with cash, or with your lives! Take that pirates! You pay for the new Keri Hilson album with cash, or with your lives!

   Unfortunately, the gameplay of Galactrix isn't without its faults. While the touch screen works almost perfectly when playing match three, selecting places to go on the map or choices from various menus in the game presents a lot of difficulty. Often a direct click will be registered as a miss, and you will cancel out of menus for planets or asteroids as your ship flies away. The battles also seem to have a heavy bias toward the opponent, as there were numerous instances of the enemy creating incredible chains of falling gems that would almost instantly deplete my health and shields. In contrast, triggering chains for the player seems to be based almost entirely off of luck. This is a shame, because despite the numerous customization options, the game almost entirely undermines strategy and preparation in place of luck. While the game does allow for battles to be retried, and generally each successive retry is easier than the last, it does become grating when you have to fight the same ship five or six times just to move onto another unbalanced encounter.

   The game is equally unimpressive in graphics and sound. There are no battle animations, and character portraits are nicely drawn, but you'll be seeing them so often it would be nice to have more than one. The board is nicely designed, but the whole game looks a little unimpressive on the Nintendo DS. Perhaps with better graphical capabilities the interesting art design could have been given a bit more life, but as it stands it does a competent job of conveying the science fiction atmosphere. The soundtrack could have taken a few notes from Miss Keri on how to create a science fiction atmosphere. In fact, for a pretty significant period of time, I wasn't even sure if there was music. The volume on the background track is hardly audible without headphones, but the effort to get headphones to hear the generic effort isn't worth it. As far as sound effects go, they're present, and much like the music, they're serviceable at best.

   Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a game that improves in many areas upon the original Puzzle Quest, but simply doesn't do enough to make itself anything more than a spruced up casual adventure. It offers many fun deviations on standard match three gameplay and numerous side quests. Unfortunately the sometimes unbalanced difficulty of battles undermines the need for strategy, and a lackluster story and presentation values give little reason to play through the quest. Fans of casual games will find plenty of fun to be had with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, but as an RPG, Galactrix fails to deliver a must play experience despite its promising ideas.

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