If you're one of the many people who was delightfully surprised last year by Infinite Interactive's excellent Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, you'll be equally delighted to know the company is working on a new hybrid puzzle/role-playing game in the same vein called Galactrix, which is slated for release later this year. Publisher D3 has rather shamelessly slapped the Puzzle Quest moniker on the front of the title, understandably to garner brand recognition among fans of last year's medieval mash-up. While Galactrix was already in development at the time of Puzzle Quest's release, it does share most of the latter game's mechanical trappings, wrapped up in a new sci-fi milieu that looks like it will provide the impetus for a quest much wider in scope.
The story (if you really need one) is set in the far-distant future, after mankind has colonized the stars. Four gigantic megacorporations are now running the galactic show, and one of them has gotten a little too big for its collective britches by conducting some unknown experiments that will potentially have dire consequences for mankind. If all this sounds a little vague, it's because D3 reps wouldn't go into specifics on the storyline (or most aspects of Galactrix, actually). We do know you'll play as a novice pilot who will become more skilled and powerful as you get closer to discovering, as well as vanquishing, the secret of the nefarious experiments.
What we can tell you is that Galactrix's core puzzle-based gameplay will be eminently familiar to anyone who played even a few minutes of Puzzle Quest because the Bejeweled-style match-three gameplay of that game is fully in evidence here. But there are a few differences. First, the tiles are now hexagonally shaped and arranged in a corresponding hexagonal grid, which gives you more than four sides surrounding the board. That might not seem like a big deal until you figure that gravity itself can play a part in the way the pieces fall. If you're fighting a match in orbit around a planet, the planet's gravitational pull will cause the pieces to always fall downward. But if you've engaged your enemy in open space, where there's no gravity, new pieces will slide in from whatever direction you made your move (due to momentum, natch).
The basic contents of a puzzle board in Galactrix are quite similar to those in Puzzle Quest. You're matching three of a kind of various tiles colored red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and silver. Red, yellow, and green correspond to your weapons, engines, and ship computer. Mechanically, they act like the mana you used in Puzzle Quest because they'll power the various weapons and abilities of your ships in battle. The only special ability we got D3 to talk about was disruptor, which will prevent your opponent's shields from recharging for a few turns.
Blue tokens will recharge your own shields when you match them. Purple ones represent "psi power," which sounds a bit like the experience tokens in Puzzle Quest. However, your psi rating will also directly affect subsequent minigames and non-player character interactions outside of battles. Silver tiles are for intel; the more of these you match, the more scuttlebutt and information you'll be able to collect as you travel from one star system to the next. Lastly, the attack tiles (represented by skulls in Puzzle Quest) have evolved here. They're now numbered, and the base damage you do by matching them will be a sum of the numbering on all the attack tiles you've matched.
D3 was only focusing on the core puzzle gameplay in Galactrix during our demo, so that's all we got to see firsthand. But in talking with company reps, we discovered there will be more going on between battles here than there was in Puzzle Quest. That game took place only on a single world map, but in Galactrix, your quest will span planets, star systems--and perhaps even the entire galaxy. A number of other gameplay systems will underpin your mission. There's a diplomacy system that will track your standing with various factions throughout your interstellar travels, governing the interactions you're able to have with them. A commodity system will tally your income and dictate what resources you're able to amass to assist your offensive effort. And, there will be ship building, allowing you to collect blueprints you can use to construct new and varied ships for your fleet then customize their weaponry for different kinds of enemy encounters.
We got to see Galactrix on the PC, where it's looking sharp in high resolution. Versions are also confirmed for later this year on the Nintendo DS and Xbox Live Arcade. Disturbingly, D3 wouldn't confirm a PSP edition of the game. That was disappointing to us because we preferred the PSP version of Puzzle Quest for its mix of portability, as well as superior graphics and music over the DS game. However, Infinite's official Galactrix page still lists a PSP version in development (as well as a possible OSX port), so we'll cross our fingers. At any rate, Galactrix looks and sounds like an intriguing follow-up to Puzzle Quest, so we're excited to get our hands on it for ourselves--whatever platform we end up playing it on.