Puzzle Quest: Galactrix Review
The original Puzzle Quest game was a clever blend of a puzzle game and RPG elements that produced an enjoyable and addicting game. Like an RPG, you had quests, character classes, and new spells and skills to learn as your character reached new levels of experience. However, all of the battles in the game were fought by playing a puzzle game competitively against your current adversary. It certainly helped that the game's puzzle-based battles were played using a variation of the gem-matching game Bejeweled, an excellent puzzle game in its own right that has spawned a seemingly endless stream of clones. Success in the world of videogames inevitably leads to a sequel, and now we have Puzzle Quest Galactrix. While the basic concept remains the same as in the original game, Galactrix introduces a number of changes and is more than simply Puzzle Quest... in space.
You begin a game of Galactrix by selecting a character, but unlike the original Puzzle Quest there aren't any character classes. Your character will still gain experience, but new abilities are gained through ship upgrades rather than character advancement. When your character advances a level you're given a couple of points to spend in one of four categories which basically affect your starting energy levels in a fight and how much energy you gain when matching certain colors of gems. In practical terms this determines factors such as your ship's starting shield strength or the available power for your weapons systems. This allows you to customize your character to your style of play – aggressive, defensive, etc. All of this results in a game that feels a little less like an RPG and more like a space epic.
The puzzle game central to all battles in the game has undergone a transformation in Galactrix. The object of the game is still to match three or more gems in a line by swapping the positions of two adjacent gems, but the gems are now hexagonal in shape and can be matched and swapped in six directions. When matches are made in Bejeweled or the original Puzzle Quest, the gems sitting above the eliminated gems 'fall' to take their place and new gems enter from the top of the screen. Galactrix takes the idea that there's no 'up' in space and applies it to the puzzles in that new gems can enter the screen from any direction. The direction that the gems move is dependent on the direction in which you swapped gems to form a match, and if that sounds a bit confusing, that's because it is. Predicting the direction that the gems will move can be a little tricky, and it's not always easy to select a move that you know will set off a chain reaction.
Like in the original Puzzle quest, battles are resolved in Galactrix by playing the puzzle against your computer-controlled foe. When you encounter an enemy ship, either as part of a mission or at random in space, the action moves to the puzzle board where you alternate moves with your opponent. The color of the gems determine the bonus bestowed when you match a row of three or more of them. Blue gems add power to your shields, red, yellow, and green gems provide different kinds of energy to power your ship's weapons and upgrades, and purple and silver gems provide bonus experience and money. There are also special black gems with red numbers known as Bola mines. When you match these, the red numbers are added and the total is applies as damage to the enemy ship. Damage is first applied to the enemy's shields, and once they are drawn down to zero the damage is applied to the ship's hull. Once the hull strength reaches zero, the ship is destroyed and the survivor wins the fight. These mines are the primary way to do damage to your opponent, but there are offensive ship upgrades that can deal damage as well as long as you've accumulated enough of the right types of energy. The capabilities of the ship upgrades serve the same role as spells did in the original game, and you have the option on your turn to use a ship upgrade instead of making a move on the puzzle board. There are a wide variety of upgrades available in the game and you can store extras to be freely swapped in and out of any starbase. This gives you the flexibility to configure your ship to suit your mission, a flexibility that's further extended by the ability to own a couple of different ships at a time.