Review: Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (Nintendo DS)

pqgcoverPuzzle Quest: Galactrix
Genre: Puzzle/RPG
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 2/24/2009


Thanks to the economic depressions we’re in the middle of, I’ve had very little money to spend on games the past couple of months. Thankfully, that didn’t stop me from getting my hands on Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.

You see, back at the beginning of 2008, I named the original PQ as one of my top three games of the year. In truth, I played it more than any other game in 2007. Needless to say, I was stoked when they announced a sequel and couldn’t wait to get my grubby little hands on it. This time the quest in space and promised to be just as addicting as the first.

So, will the sequel live up to the original, or leave us wishing the series had never took the leap into space?

Story

At the outset of Galactrix, you can create either a male or female character. Unfortunately, all you really do is pick the sex and then the name. You can’t change character portraits or chose a class. Your character is then introduced as a recent graduate from a military academy for the MRI corporation. After a few dull missions involving defeating a few pirates and mining a few asteroids, your character is sent to investigate the failing of the leapgates. Leapgates are portals that allow ships to travel from space cluster to space cluster. Without them, space travel is nigh on impossible. After gathering a small crew that includes a sarcastic space miner and her sarcastic robot companion, (Sarcasm is the name of the game for here. Apparently without it, no character can be interesting.) the journey begins.

The story is really bland for the greater part of the game. It finally picks up when you’re introduced to the Soulless, a race of clone-like creatures out to achieve perfection. Things get interesting after this point, and some of your lowly crew members actually start having bits of dialogue. However, the Soulless seem a bit too much like the Borg from Star Trek for my tastes. It felt like I had already heard the story before.

The biggest problem with the story is that the characters are bland. The main character in particular can’t get you to care about him one bit. For one, he’s an ass. I’m not talking about a strong anti-hero like Kratos or something. He’s just a prick who’ll take any mission, even if it means desecrating sacred statues or using the young of one species as nothing more than lunch. He doesn’t seem to have any morals, but worst of all, he doesn’t seem to have any purpose. I never understood his motivation for any of the things he does. He just flies around for the hell of it I suppose.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix tries to give the player a grand sci-fi story to play through, but without any interesting characters and a slow winding plot that takes too long to get going, all you’re left with is a lacking experience.

Graphics

This game doesn’t even come close to pushing the DS to its limits. For one, every conversation is told through static character portraits. These never change, no matter what the mood of the character. These pictures are also used for anything involving every character or ship, meaning you see them a lot.

When you’re on the over world, each planet, asteroid, or space station is represented by a yet another static portrait. There are very few differences between each. Every space station and leapgate looks exactly the same. Considering the game takes place over a huge galaxy full of different races, factions, and levels of technology, it just takes away from the game that everything is the same.

During battle, the gems are displayed on the bottom screen and the character portraits along with health and power levels is displayed on the top. There are surprisingly few visual effects. No matter what power you use, the gems are always destroyed in the same manner. Lasers should not be the same as missiles. Just saying. pqg1

All told, there is very little to look at in this game. What’s there is serviceable, but the game doesn’t ever do anything to wow you. It really feels like the graphics are there only because they have to be. No effort was put into them.

Audio

My god. If you thought the music was annoying in the first PQ, then you haven’t heard anything yet. There’s a cool theme that starts off the game when you first turn it on, but before long, you’ll grow a certain hatred towards the music. In particular, the theme for when you’re hacking a leapgate made me grind my teeth. You see, there is a constant ticking sound in the background that is supposed to represent your time running out. I played the game for maybe an hour or so before I turned off the sound and just sat in silence instead.

The sound effects are pretty cheap too. They’re not actively bad or anything, but there is a definite lack of them. You get a generic sound for the gems a few sounds for the various weapons you use in the game. None of them are impressive. They couldn’t have taken more than an hour to put in the game.

This is the kind of game you play while listening to your MP3 player.

Gameplay

Ok. So the story sucks and the presentation is bland to say the least. However, the reason anyone would play PQ is for the gameplay. Is that any good?

Well, if you’re talking about the basic mechanics of the game, then it sure is. Galactrix uses a different system than its older brother. For one, the gem board is now hexagonal instead of your typical rectangular shape. This adds a new dimension to gem swapping in that you have more ways than ever to match gems. In the first game, you could only make matches vertically or horizontally. Here, you can use almost any direction to make sets of three.

There’s also a new gravitational mechanic introduced. You see, based on how you move pieces on the board, new pieces will come in from different angles. Lets take a vertical column for example. You can make a match of three by swapping two gems. If you do this by moving a piece down, new pieces will fall from above. However, with the same set up, if you moves a different piece up, then the new pieces will come from below. It all depends on which way you moved the stylus. This all adds up for some insane combo possibilities and strategic planning. Now, if you want to make sure that you don’t set up a group of mines for your opponent to use, you have more ways of trying to accomplish that. pqg2

If you haven’t played a PQ game before, here’s how it works. You and an AI opponent take turns swapping gems to make groups of three or more. You get various bonuses depending on what your destroy. Purple gems grant PSI points, which can be used to avoid enemy ships. Silver gems give you bonus experience. Blue gems increase your shields, which must be depleted before damage can be done to health points The other colors give your various energy used to power your weapons and other gear. Except that is, for mines. These come with numbers on them. When you match three mines, you deal damage to your opponent equal to the sum of those numbers. Battle continues until one opponent runs out of HP.

So what do you do when you’re not battling? Well, instead of granting you bonus effects like in the last game, your crew members will each open up a new mini-game for you to play (apart from Sable, who allows usage of PSI powers.) Each mini-game uses the same board as battles, but use different rules and pieces. For instance, in the mining game, you need to match gems in order to earn resources. You gather until you’ve reached the limit for that asteroid, or you run out of moves. Haggling allows you to clear as many gems as possible from a board. No new gems will drop, so you’re limited and need to think strategically. You’ll also open leapgates with a timed challenge, craft items by creating specific gems to match, and gather information by matching gems for a set number of rounds without letting a certain type of gem to match.

That’s basically the game right there. You’ll fly around the galaxy and complete missions which require you to explore and battle your way. You’ll gain levels that allow you to boost your skills and gain new ships and weapons to battle with.

There are a few problems I found. For one, you’ll be occasionally forced to enter a sector when an enemy there wished to battle you. Once you’re in the sector, you’ll see an enemy ship flying around with a timer over it. When the timer hits zero, you’re ship is stopped and the enemy ship flies toward you to initiate a battle. I can’t figure out why your ship has to stop when the timer hits zero. There’s nothing in the game that explains why you still can’t attempt to run away. Also, you can click on an enemy to target it, but they’ll keep flying around and are the same speed as you so it can take a while just to get close enough for battle! Another problem I had was that there are too many stinking leapgates! I’ve spent more time just trying to open these things than any other part of the game. Its a problem when movement takes up so much of a player’s time.

Of course, the biggest problem comes in how luck is by far the largest factor to a victory. I’ll talk more on that in a bit. Just know that the basic design of the game is pretty solid and fun. Gem swapping is as fun as ever in PQ.

Replayability

Compared to the first PQ, Galactrix is hardly worth playing again.

For one, since there are no classes to chose from at the beginning, there is no difference between characters at all. Also, the story will never change and you don’t have to worry about keeping or dropping crew members. All of the same weapons will be the same. This ships will be the same. You’ll get the same experience every time you play.

There is some fun to be had in local multi-card multi-player, but there is no connecting to Nintendo wi-fi in this game, which is pretty darn sad. A little on line multi-player would have been quite welcome.

All in all, this is a one and done game, which is a shame, since you could legitimately play the first game at least four times over before getting the full experience.

Balance

This game cheats.

I know what you’re thinking. I probably suck at the game or something and am simply blaming the game for my lack of skills. I wish that were the case. This game just flat out cheats.
pqg3
You see, part of the whole gem swapping thing is that random pieces will fall to replace them. Far too often, you’ll see pieces fall perfectly into place for either your or your opponent. I have seen a board with no mines on it suddenly lead to me losing half of my life because the AI cleared a random group of gems off and the game decided to drop a 15 string combo. I am not even close to kidding about that. It seems that for every bit of strategy there is in the game, you’ll have to battle with luck three times more. Almost every battle is decided not on clever play and planning, but instead off of one or two big combos that you couldn’t possibly see coming. This might either work for you or against you, but it always feels cheap. If you lose a battle, you’ll feel cheated. If you win, you’ll still feel cheated because you won’t honestly be able to say you did anything skillful. It just saps away the fun from the game.

This luck factor also kills the tempo of the game because of all the leap gate openings you have to succeed at. You’ll need to clear out certain colored gems in a certain order with a time limit. The problem is that the gems are random, so you may need to match green gems but find that there are no green gems on the board! All you can do is match gems in hopes that three green ones will fall nearby each other. Also, if you start a combo, you’ll have to sit back and watch as the game keeps clearing them out, all the while the time is ticking away. If that chain didn’t happen to clear any of the gems you needed, then you’ve lost precious time. I’ve failed many an attempt at opening a gate because of this.

It was inevitable that luck would play a large part in battles, but somehow, the luck factor skyrocketed for Galactrix. When you have twice the shields, health, and firepower of another ship and they kill you in a few turns, something is wrong with the game.

Originality

This being a sequel, you’d expect a low score for originality, but that isn’t the case here.

You see, the gravitational effect of swapping out gems is a great idea and it is executed well. I myself haven’t seen a puzzle game utilize this kind of mechanic and hope that somebody out there will put it to greater effect.

Beyond this one new mechanic, however, the game doesn’t really offer anything new if you’ve already played a PQ game.

Addictiveness

On one hand, the gem swapping ways of Galactrix are as addicting as ever. If not for the horrible balance, this game would have sucked me in and never let go. Sadly, two things conspire to make this the kind of game you can put down and forget about for a long time.

First, the battles are so ruined by the luck factor that they are never rewarding. Also, since all you’ve fight are other ships, there’s very little to discern one enemy from another. In the first game, you knew what you were fighting and what kind of tactics they use. Spiders use the web spell to cost you turns. Orcs would spend huge amounts of red mana for direct damage and so on. Here, you’ll eventually get that kind of feel for it, but only based on the name of the faction you’re facing. Also, since you can’t outfit your ship with any piece of equipment you want, as well as change to any ship found in the game, you lose your identity as well. Thus, battles are unrewarding and don’t suck you in.

Secondly, I can’t stress enough how annoying it is to be opening leapgates every other minute. If a mission only requires me to travel from one place to another, I don’t want that mission to take an hour because of monotonous mini-games. This is compounded by the fact that you don’t get enough experience for these types of missions as well.

There’s one more thing I forgot. Leveling up doesn’t do nearly as much as it should. For one, enemies level up with you no matter where they are, so any basic bonuses you get, such as hull or damage increases, are nullified by the fact that all enemies get them too. Also, you have to spend skill points to increase the effect you get from gems. The problem here is that you have to spend far too many skill points to get even the tiniest boost. It can take multiple levels before you even notice you’ve gotten any stronger.

Galactrix had all the chance to become the year’s best puzzle addiction, but the design killed it.

Appeal Factor

The first PQ game was well received and beloved. It was one of my favorite things to do when it came out. As such, this game got a ton of press and I’ve seen the ads for it everywhere. This is the most attention that I’ve seen for a game published by D3, and I suppose the game will end up selling decently because of that. pqg4

Of course, this game now has more competition when it comes to the handheld puzzle market, and since it isn’t as good as its predecessor, a lot of people who might have bought it might turn it down in order to get something like Peggle.

Still, if you like Puzzle games, you’re sure to get some enjoyment out of Galactrix. Just keep your expectations low.

Miscellaneous

I can’t understand how this game strayed so far from the successful formula of the original. The developers had a winning formula and instead of correcting the problems with it and creating something better, they went in a very different direction and it hasn’t paid off. I can understand that they wanted to try something new, but to follow up such a beloved title with something like this is inexcusable. I’m hoping for an upgraded Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords in the future.

I know I’ve been a bit heavy with the comparisons to the original game, but there’s no way to ignore how inferior Galactrix is to it. It’s just disappointing.

Apart from the main quest, you can jump into instant action against an AI opponent or play with a friend with a DS and another copy of the game. Beyond that, there are no new options or bonus material. Once you’ve finished the game, there is no reason to go back.

That is, if you find a reason to play it in the first place.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Below Average
Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackDespite the solid gameplay that if offers, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is bogged down by a bland story, bland presentation, and a complete lack of balance. This game is nowhere near as good as the original and unless you really need a puzzle fix, you should probably just pass it up. I’d recommend this only to the desperate.

One Comment
  1. Matt Yeager

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