Puzzle Quest: Galactrix Updated Hands-On

We shoot off into space for another look at the sure-to-be-addictive Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.

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Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
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There's something highly addictive about moving coloured gems around on a grid. Pair this with a simple and rewarding task like matching colours in rows of three or more, and it's not hard to see why Puzzle Quest has earned itself such a dedicated fan base.

Instead of a character, you're buiding up a ship in Galactrix.
Instead of a character, you're buiding up a ship in Galactrix.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix combines, and improves on, the same elements of puzzle tactics, role-playing, and strategy that made its predecessor, Challenge of the Warlords, so successful. Moving from a fantasy setting into a futuristic space-age setting, Galactrix's story is once again driven by its puzzle space. For newcomers to PQ, the aim of the game is to solve puzzles in the puzzle space--a circular grid that contains 55 gems in six different colours, placed together at random. You must move the gems around to make formations of like-coloured gems of three or more, be it in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line. The puzzle space is used in a variety of situations: for combat whenever your ship runs into an enemy ship, as well as for tasks such as mining (where the gems represent alloys, minerals, gold, and other mining elements), collecting technology and gold, and unlocking areas of the map to advance.

What makes Galactrix an improvement on its predecessor are its new shape and the new attributes of the puzzle space. The space is now circular instead of rectangular, and there has been a change in the way the gems fall into the grid. They no longer fall from the top, but rather from all sides, depending on the displacement of the gems most recently collected. While the goal still remains to match like-coloured gems in rows of three or more, this new element gives the game a whole new potential for strategy--you can now predict what colour gems will fall into the spaces vacated by the gems you've just matched up. This means you can think one or two moves ahead, not unlike in chess, which proves to be not only more challenging but also a lot more helpful in battles.

While our last preview looked at the mechanics of the game, our latest hands-on allowed us to come to grips with Galactrix's story, which sees your hero travelling around the galaxy from area to area, picking up missions for one of the four megacorporations that now control Earth. Space exploration is truly under way, and you, a lowly and inexperienced graduate pilot from the MRI Corporation Academy, are trying to become a crime-fighting space agent. The story is told through conversations between the characters, whose vocabulary has been well endowed with sarcasm for use in the right situations. The topographical map screen will serve as your guide, telling you which space region you're currently in and where you have to go next. On the DS, moving around is done simply by touching the area on the screen where you want to go with your stylus. A pop-up window will then indicate your options in that particular area.

After some simple flight tutorials, which involve pointing the stylus to the areas indicated on the screen, you take your first mission: hunting pirates. You fly from planet to planet hunting their trail until you find them, and then you battle them on the puzzle space.

During battle, each gem in the puzzle space represents a different element. For example, blue gems represent health, orange gems represent shields, and red gems represent weapon power. The amount of each element available to your ship depends on the current level you're playing at in the game and the amount of experience you've acquired. This is indicated by a number bar. On the DS, the puzzle space is located on the bottom screen, while details about you and your opponent's ship--including health, shields, and weapons--are on the top screen (although the screens can be interchanged by pressing the right trigger).

Battles are played out on a turn-by-turn basis: you will have a chance to make your move and gather as many colour formations as possible, after which your opponent will have the chance to do the same, until someone's shields and health both hit zero. You can deplete an opponent's shields and health either by using a weapon (which forfeits your turn to match up gems on the board) or by matching up special mine gems on the board, which are present only during battles.

Sooner or later your missions will require you to get through to another region of space, and to do this you must go through portals called leapgates. These are locked and must be hacked via the puzzle space. Be warned: Hacking leapgates requires you to complete a timed puzzle, where you have a certain time limit to collect a certain number of coloured gem formations as told to you by the game. These puzzles get harder as the game advances, so while you may start out having 100 seconds to collect a mere 12 formations, very soon you will find yourself trying to collect 16 formations in just 80 seconds.

Hacking leapgates adds a timer to the puzzling action.
Hacking leapgates adds a timer to the puzzling action.

As you complete missions, fight battles, and level up, your skills will improve in four main areas: gunnery, engineering, science, and piloting. You can distribute as many points as you've earned to one, two, three, or all four of these areas, not necessarily equally, thus determining what kind of ship you will have. The different gems you collect throughout your endeavours will also help your ship--for instance, red are used for weapon upgrades, and blue will upgrade your ship's shield. When you've collected enough, you'll be given the option of acquiring a new ship from a possible 30, each with its own special set of outfits made for different situations.

At this stage, Galactrix is looking like a highly addictive, intelligent, and challenging puzzle game that takes a fresh approach to the genre. Stay tuned for our full review soon.

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