Giant Bomb Review

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Puzzle Quest: Galactrix Review

3
  • PC

It's not technically inferior, but Galactrix just doesn't excite in the same way as Puzzle Quest did.

It's Puzzle Quest... in SPACE!
When D3 and Infinite Interactive released Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords two years ago on the PSP and DS, its appropriation of RPG and puzzle game conventions seemed kind of ingenious. On their own, the elements that comprised Puzzle Quest weren't particularly great. The fantasy RPG elements were boilerplate, and the puzzle action was just Bejeweled, but they complimented each other to make for something far more interesting and addictive. Depending on your perspective, it was either an RPG with a unique combat system, or a puzzle game with some unique context. 

After subsequently bringing Puzzle Quest to every platform in the known universe, Infinite Interactive returns with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, which takes the same basic RPG-plus-puzzle formula, swaps out medieval fantasy for a space-faring, far-flung futuristic setting, and replaces the four-way puzzle with a six-way variant. In theory, it should be just as satisfying as its predecessor, but the returns on the formula have already diminished noticeably. The combination of RPG and puzzle doesn't seem quite as novel, and choices have been made that create an experience that's more complicated without being more fun.

The story of Galactrix opens with a grim prologue recounting man's brutal conquest of the stars and its interactions with alien races that basically boils down to “Man is awesome, but he's also his own worst enemy. Oh, and megacorporations.” You're then dropped into the shoes of a star pilot fresh from the academy who starts off chasing pirates but eventually gets tangled up in the unethical and dangerous machinations of one of Earth's megacorps. It's all Self-Serious Sci-Fi 101, and other the the weird intonations of the voice actor who reads the prologue, it's not delivered with much flair.

You'll name your pilot and choose his or her appearance from a handful of oddly angular portraits, then head off into the galaxy to take on quests, mine asteroids, hunt down pirates, hack into “leapgates,” and build new ships and parts, all activities which end up boiling down to playing variants of a gem-swapping puzzle game. The RPG elements in Galactrix are just palette-swaps for the original PQ, with the same basic effects. Instead of a quest party, you get a ship crew that confers bonuses during puzzle combat; instead of weapons for yourself, you get upgrades for your ship that give you new and more powerful puzzle attacks; and so on. Other than the sci-fi setting, the biggest difference between Puzzle Quest and Galactrix is the way the puzzle action itself handles.

Actually... wait, what's even going on here?
Part of the joy of Puzzle Quest was how self-apparent the puzzle gameplay was. It cribbed shamelessly from a well-established, very popular puzzle game, so even if it took you a while to wrap your head around the RPG parts, if you knew how to play Bejeweled, you could get by until the rest came into focus. Galactrix tries something a little more unique, creating a style of puzzle action that fuses Bejeweled with Hexic. I suppose Infinite Interactive should get credit for trying something new, but it handicaps the accessibility. You're still swapping gems around, trying to line up three or more like-colored gems in a row to clear them out. But now the gems themselves are six-sided, making it possible to line them up vertically or diagonally, and instead of having new gems always drop into the field from above, they'll often come in from whichever direction you moved the gems in. 

There are more gem colors to contend with now, though it's less the number and more the way they're implemented that gums up the works. In addition to the mine gems, which throw damage at your enemy, red, yellow, and green gems fill up the power gauges you'll need to perform any special abilities you have equipped; blue gems fill up your shield, which prevents your enemy from draining your hit points directly; gray gems increase the amount of XP you earn from winning a fight; and purple gems add to your “psi power,” which you can use to avoid random enemy encounters. With so many variables, the learning curve is longer, and the puzzle action feels far more chaotic. One of the complaints about Puzzle Quest was the perception that your AI opponents cheated, and while developer Infinite Interactive has sworn up and down that there was no programming in Puzzle Quest that should give the AI any kind of foresight beyond what's on the table, Galactrix isn't going to do anything to quell those complaints.

Outside of the puzzle action there are even more systems to contend with, such as a faction system that impacts who will attack you and who you can trade with, and a byzantine leapgate map system. Infinite Interactive seems to have lost sight of the approachability that made Puzzle Quest endearing, and Galactrix is simply more demanding than it should be. The first Puzzle Quest was a revelation; Galactrix is just a complication.
14 Comments
Posted by cyrax

I haven't played the PC/360 version but the DS one is a giant leap back from PQ. My favorite parts are the constant and long (for DS) loading screens. Don't get enough of those on the DS for my tastes.

Posted by welly

hmmmm....

Posted by JJOR64

I was hoping that this game would be good.  I thought of picking up Puzzle Quest for DS even though I own it for 360.

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Posted by Crono

This review makes this game out to be a waste of time.  Too bad, I had a lot of hopes for this game (as I am sure many of us did) based on how fun PQ was.  But after playing a demo of the game that I remembered had been released a short while ago, I was unsold as the game was more confusing than interesting;  play that demo and tell me what you think.

Ohh and I don't know why, but when I clicked that Hexic link in the article, I was expecting to see Hexen for some reason...

Nice review, thanks for reinforcing my choice to not buy this game.

Posted by BagManForHire

hmm i love the game i played it when it came for about 5 hours non stop but they maybe because i never played the 1st PQ.

Posted by Ouroboros

I feel the game is still solid but much more annoying and frustrating to play then the first game ever was.  The insessant "hacking" of jump gates and the inability to truly predict the flow of the game as there are now 4 or so ways gems can come in really makes the game borderline too challenge.  Also, the game isnt tiered for diffulculty.  I was playing single player main quest until I hit a point where I had to defeat a level 19 ship when I was literally level 10 or 11, this is close to impossible.  Also, random pirates and even random neutral dudes will randomly jump you who are clearly higher then you are forcing you to flee.  I appreciate the concept but I still enjoy PQ1 more then essentially PQ2 - I should write a more indepth review.  I dont regret my purchase but I would urge people to try the demo and ask people who are on the fence to wait til the price comes down 5 dollars essentially before making the purchase.  The game is grosse and incredibly deep but the initially first few hours of gameplay initiation may detract from new fans unless they are incredibly masochistic.

Edited by Kyle

I definitely agree that it has Galactrix lacks much of that which made the original PQ endearing, though I don't think the core puzzle game is worse in any significant way.

Much like World at War to CoD 4, not a bad game by any means, but fundamentally inferior to it's predecessor.

Oddly enough, the biggest complaint I have with the game is gem selection. It might seem like an extremely trivial thing, but it shapes how the gameplay feels. In the original PQ, you could just select a gem and then push the stick in whichever direction that you wanted to swap it. In Galactrix, you have to select the first gem and then move over and select the second gem as well. Like I said, it sounds so insignificant, but because of the astronomical amounts of gem-switching in the game, this one little thing serves to make the whole game feel more tedious. While it's harder to fix because of the 6-way nature of Galactrix, there were ways it could have been improved. For instance, if I select one gem, then only let me move the cursor to the 6 surrounding gems after that, don't let me overshoot with my cursor and have to move it back. That's just short-sighted design.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

I thought they would have at least tried something new with the minigame aspect, but apparently the reskinning is fairly thorough.  What a crazy thing to do.  No new mechanics other than the base puzzle?

I like that you control the direction with which stuff slides in, so you can limit the random pain that comes from damage blocks falling into place for the enemy.  I still would consider trying this one out because of this, but I wish they'd tried to innovate on their own design a little more.

Posted by darkjester74

Nice review Ryan, thanks.  I believe you just saved me $20.  Like you, what attracted me to PQ was its accessibility.  I had the DS version and it was a great time waster while still having some depth to it.  It sounds like Infinite missed an opportunity here, thats a shame.

Posted by RHCPfan24

This was what I was expecting. Good review, Ryan. I think you saved my money there.

Posted by kainen

I thought i pretty much sucked.  I'm surprised you didn't bring up the ANNOYING as hell rift gate puzzles you have to go through every second to move around the map.  The kicker is that they aren't even permanent, after a while you have to redo them of all things.  So crappy. 

Posted by Media_Master

O well, puzzle games don't excite me anyway, unless I'm bored  and I only have a cell phone.

Posted by dagas

Wanted to get Galactrix since I prefer sci-fi over fantasy, but the original is only 800p since it's in arcade hits and Galactrix is twice that so I got the original instead. Might get Galactrix if it's discounted at some point since I'm a sucker for spaceships and such.

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Posted by rta

yeah...picked it up for the ds...LOVED  PQ, but i played galactrix for maybe 10 minutes...