Galactrix is space-bound: Earth is ravaged, “mega-corporations” have seized power, and mankind roams the universe using or blowing up everything in our path. The universe is our war-torn oyster, and hundreds of years after mankind makes its first foray into the alien realms Galactrix begins its story. Like its predecessor, Challenge of the Warlords, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix melds casual gaming ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â la Bejeweled with some RPG questing. What Galactrix brings however, is a new universe, cast, zero gravity and an amplification of those classic addictive elements: leveling up characters, forging items, missions and quests – and matching countless gems.
You begin by choosing your character from a couple of male and female pilots enter your very own name, and that is pretty much it. Not nearly has nuanced as Warlords, though battles and completed missions earn experience which allows you to level up your pilot in four categories: Gunnery, Engineering, Science and Piloting. It is fun, but the real benefit is in improving your ship. The game keeps up a fast pace from the start, though I found myself rushing through the story just to get to the next battle. The first few “missions” are laughable, with a tutorial on navigating your ship around the map that feels like a beginner typing class: point and click. It only takes a couple of more satisfying missions to discover what you are really after – a genetic experiment gone wrong that has busted out of a space station for greener galactic pastures.
The universe is a vast place, and within Galactrix are a number of galaxies that you visit using Jump Gates. Galaxies are comprised of planets, which hold missions, asteroids for mining and space stations and selecting and clicking on planets and asteroids brings up new objectives and tasks. As you chase the crazy freak creature’s trail through the universe, a limit on active quests keeps the list from becoming unwieldy. Overwhelmed? A map, list of missions and a screen tracking your rag tag assortment of crew members and how they can help you are valuable resources.
You can own up to three ships at a time, though you only take one into battle. As you might expect, some ships are designed with strong defenses, others with greater speed or larger freight capacity, and each can either be bought or built with cargo. AI ships dot the screen, some friendly and others part of opposing factions. Encountering the ship of an opposing faction triggers battles. In a faster ship you can try to avoid undesirable battles, but the navigation system leaves plenty of room for error as your ship just drifts around following your cursor.
The battles are the core of the game – puzzles. While the puzzles crop up in different mini-game variations the basic principles are static: you match like gems in rows of three or more. Due to the zero gravity of space the hexagonal pieces can be moved in six directions, and the pieces are replenished according to the direction you make the swap (if you swap towards the lower right that is the direction the board moves). This means that with some good strategy you can not only maximize your turn but disrupt the enemy’s next move. The matches are turn-based, and if you make an incorrect swap in battle you forfeit your turn. Matching five gems or achieving Supernova earns you an extra turn, while Nova doubles your score. Attack gems are mines labeled with numbers from one to ten whichwhen matched determine the number of hit points you blast your enemy for.
On the left you can track the condition of both your shield and your hull, a smooth integration of the game’s RPG motif into the casual gem swapping concept. Battles are a constant give and take between building up your shields with blue gems and attacking the enemy. The AI is pretty diabolical, but if you feel like disrupting this challenge, try equipping ship items that skip the enemy turn. This approach has really taken off in online play (so go first or die).
Acquiring plans for items and outfitting your ship with things like turn-skipping components and lasers requires credits, which you earn completing missions and selling cargo. You collect cargo through the mining mini-game in which you travel to asteroids and play a variation on the puzzle that has only a limited number of gems that can be matched. Make as many matches as possible until there are none left, thereby creating a black hole (yeah, I found that worrisome). Each galaxy has their own economy, which affects where your cargo is most valuable. When you go to sell, good prices are green, less than desirable offers are red. This is a nice way to simplify the trade system, especially since I didn’t care enough to keep track of which cargo sold best where beyond selling what was in green and hanging onto the red. Your cargo space is limited; however, so frequent sales are encouraged.
Jump Gates, the portals to other galaxies, need to be hacked before you can use them. Hacking is a mini-game that has you matching specific gem colors in a fixed order within a time limit. Each gate has a difficulty level which determines the time limit and the length of the chain for matching. There is no penalty for failing and retrying a gate, other than some frustration. You can be as fast as lightning at clearing the way for new gems, but getting the gems you need calls for some luck.
Music for the game is really pretty great, but it has such a wide dynamic range that it can be irritating, particularly in battle. There is some voice over narration, but no voice acting for the characters. This is too bad, because while I don’t necessarily expect voice acting from a downloadable I think it would have really changed the ease of following the story. 2D characters and cartoon dialogue can be a little numbing, and I was really put off by the crazy space names – an experience not unlike trying to remember character names from Tolstoy. In other words, impossible, and it really took me out of the story. The game runs smoothly, and it may be an unintentional effect but as you or your opponent score Novas and Supernovas the resultant explosions obscure the game board. This compounded with the massive gem shifts will destroy any chess-like planning.
Galactrix is a big game, more than your average downloadable offering and an engrossing blend of RPG and match three puzzling. The zero gravity board adds challenge and strategy, and the gameplay formula is so addictive and the quests so numerous that it is a difficult game to put down. Some audio blips and a take-it-or-leave-it story can’t mar the fundamental draw of Puzzle Quest.