So... I really enjoyed Puzzle Quest when I played it for the Nintendo DS, enjoyed it enough to complete it, and then buy it again later on Xbox Live. The game did a great job of turning Bejeweled on its head, and let's be honest, the original Puzzle Quest was Bejeweled with an RPG tacked on. Galactrix and D3 Publisher have tried to take that first game and improve upon it, and release it for every console under the sun. With Galactrix the change in venue to the vastness of space and planetary travel invokes a sense of wonderment and exploration like that of Mass Effect, and attempts to get the game play more refined to be more accessible to everyone. Unfortunately the game falls flat on its face when it comes to accessibility and fun. With gameplay that at time borders on criminally unfair, and a boring and initially confusing interface, Galactrix has a tough time doing anything to impress me as a gamer and a puzzle game fan.
Puzzle Quest Galactrix starts the player off as a graduate from the MRI academy. In this tiny little galaxy the players have a few planets to explore and to take jobs from. These jobs will eventually blossom in to the over-arching story involving a mysterious race that appears hell bent on destroying everything in the universe. The story is carried out in typical character pictures accompanied with boxes of text, which are thankfully kept short and to the point. As you explore further you'll assemble a crew that will allow you to do a myriad of things, from uncovering rumors on planets, to crafting items with the blueprints earned from defeated foes. Your work will also attract the attention of various factions all across the galaxy who will either appreciate your work, or turn hostile on you and attack whenever you show yourself in their waters. All in all this system works, but it also turns the difficulty up to nearly unplayable levels that left me turning the console off more often then not.
Let's discuss the puzzle game that is the meat and potatoes of this game shall we? So if you're used to playing Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, then you're going to be a little bit shaken when it comes to Galactrix. In Warlords, the gems always came from the top of the screen. This would sometimes cause a situation where no moves could be made, and subsequently reset the board, and the powers accumulated. This thankfully, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, cannot happen with Galactrix, as gems now shift based on the moves you make, so if you shift a gem down, it will move in fresh gems from above. Move a gem up and the new gems come from below. What this also does is add an incredibly large random element to the game, to the point where it becomes frustrating. The game has a nasty habit of moving in attack gems in patterns that can completely set you up for disaster.
Let's also talk about the A.I. for this game, and how it colludes with whatever spawns the gems to make this game as annoying to play as possible. Some computer opponents have abilities that will greatly exceed that of your current weapons. I've lost on the first turn in several matches as the computer was able to destroy a massive number of attack gems, and in their place, more attack gems arrived, and the next thing I know, I've lost a match. Where is the balance in that? Granted if I had the weapons and abilities that the computer was given I would probably be in the same situation. But when you start the game at such a disadvantage, it's hard to keep motivated to continue to play. In the mean time I think I'll go craft some new items, or go mine for materials. Of course you could avoid battles in exchange for psych points, provided you've found the right person to teach you the skill to avoid specific ships. If not, and you're up against an enemy that you just cannot beat, then prepared to take on alternate route, or even potentially get stuck in a system with no means of escape. Why you are limited to a specific path when visiting certain galaxies is confusing to say the least.
There are a decent number of other things you can do while you attempt to make some progress through the story. But the distractions all of course follow the same style of gameplay as the main game. Crafting items is a two tiered system, first you need to match three gems of the same color to generate one gem for the item. Match three item gems to add them to the quota needed to build an item. When you run out of moves you fail. Most of the other stuff, like hacking, and rumor discovery play out in a similar fashion. Which eventually becomes a bore, especially when it comes to hacking which is something you are always going to have to do, and it's just a time attack to meet a certain number of gem matches. Nothing is more frustrating than to reach the end of the clock only to be one or two gem matches short, especially when it feels like the game is actively trying to prevent you from making the matches you need. Really, all of these different ways to play the game should have been shortened because at the end of the day, you're just playing the same game, and it's being stretched incredibly thin to the point of being boring.
Puzzle Quest Galactrix had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately it just doesn't have the same charm and appeal of the first game. The space setting has this game feeling a lot more sterile and lifeless. This coupled with the repeated gameplay mechanics that all revolve around matching three or more gems got this game on the fast track to deletion from my hard drive. In a portable setting this game might be more palatable, but as a game I can't take on the go, this game just doesn't have anything appealing that I couldn't play elsewhere on a handheld. Add to that the insanely frustrating AI that shows up in battles that make up a majority of the game, yeah I'm getting frustrated as I type this. Avoid this game if you can, and pick up the original Puzzle Quest on a portable console.
Shady A.I., gameplay that gets stale fast, and a story that is impossible to decipher when you're losing to the enemy forces in the first turn means you should avoid Puzzle Quest Galactrix.
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