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Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: D3
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Puzzle/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is the next step in the Bejeweled-style RPG game that came out a few years back.

Everything about Galactrix is 2D goodness, just like the previous Puzzle Quest adventure. The battle screens look like they could be a puzzle game found on MSN or Yahoo Games, while the story-advancing cutscenes use nice looking static character models with word bubbles and detailed backdrops. The last type of screen the game presents is the Galactic Map. While in a system, the 2D sprite that is your ship can fly around from different planets, asteroids and stations all as if it were a top-down shooter. One of the beauties of this game is it's simple visual design that still conveys the fairly good story and gameplay.

Much like its predecessor, there isn't a whole lot of variety in the way of sound effects. When using your ship's weapons or collapsing tiles, you will hear distinct, but somewhat repetitive sounds. Each type of tile makes a unique noise when destroyed though, so it never really gets too bad in that regard. But also like Puzzle Quest, the background music will get your heart pumping when you're in the middle of a fight.

The previous Puzzle Quest game used the standard Bejeweled-style gameboard as a way to simulate RPG fighting, crafting and training. For the most part, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is the same, except this game is space-based (instead of standard fantasy fare like the previous) and instead of dealing with a square-tile board, you will have to contend with 50 or so hexagonal tiles lined up in a circular shape. But the concept of replacing fights with a puzzle game still holds firm.

You play as a pilot straight from the academy (though he was top of his class). You are given a ship and you start off with some menial jobs like stopping pilots and delivering food. But you soon become immersed in an attempt to stop a plot dedicated to exterminating the human race. Of course, to do so, you will need the best ship, the most shields, and the best weapons, and that's where the RPG elements come in.

While you don't play as a ship, pretty much everything about your abilities to fight involves your ship. But throughout the game, you will get the ability to upgrade your ship (either through purchase or salvage and repair). These ships have various stats that include the number of slots for weapons or equipment as well as the amount of shields it can have and the number of what kinds of tiles it can hold as energy for the weapons. These tiles come in three flavors, weapons (red), engines (yellow) and science (green). Building up your ship's reserves of these tiles allows you to use the weapons and equipment you have on board. These can do everything from attack your opponent, to remove tiles from the board or change the colors of tiles on the board. For the most part, these moves are used to strategically collapse the board so that bombs will line up and deal damage to your enemy (like the skulls of Puzzle Quest), but they can also be used to increase your ship's shields or gain you more energy in a different color so you can use a different item.

The other tiles you will see on the battle screen include white and purple, which are your character's intel and psychic rating, respectively. Basically, these tiles act as your character's experience, so the only way you are going to level up (outside of the intel gained from simply completing quests) is to clear as many of these tiles as possible during a fight. If you do, then you will be able to increase various factors like the amount of shields, weapons, science and engine points you start off with in a battle.

But not everything in Galactrix is a fight where you are trying to destroy the opposing character. There are several other game types that will test your puzzle skills in a different manner. In order to craft objects, you have to combine red, green and yellow tiles to form components, and then line up like-components to get closer to actually making the device. When mining an asteroid, you are faced with a sparcely-populated board and your goal is to get as many of the requested materials before you run out of possible moves. These materials can range from polymers to alloys, technology, diamonds, gold, food (how you "mine" food, I'm not sure), minerals, contraband and several other tile-types. These materials are stored in your ship's cargo (which is sized different based on the ship itself) and is used for crafting equipment or selling for money so you can buy equipment.

But, the most frequent game mode, at least it seemed the most frequent, involved hacking the Leapgates (the devices that allow you to travel between systems). These are timed events that require you to clear out specific tiles in a specific order before the clock runs out. There are clock tiles that will grant you some precious extra seconds when you clear them, and while they don't afford you a lot of time, they are always helpful. These hacks are rated based on how many tiles you are supposed to get rid of in how much time, and most of them are ranked easy, but there are quite a few doozies out there. What I found most annoying about this mode is the fact that pausing the game doesn't actually stop the counter. Yup, that's right, if someone calls while you are trying to hack a Leapgate, then you either have to miss the call or fail at the attempt because the counter keeps ticking away no matter what.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix has a fairly good difficulty curve to it. As you make your way across the Galactic Map, you will find that systems farther away from your start location will have enemy ships that are tougher to take down and Leapgates that want you to clear more tiles in less time. With the exception of the difficulty of the Leapgates, pacing yourself through the game's missions and not trying to jump too far ahead on the map is a surefire way to make sure you won't get your aft handed to you in a fight. As for the other mission types, Leapgates, mining, crafting, etc., you will get better at those as you progress in the game and get a better feel for how the tiles fall and how to stratagize on the play field. But, like the fights, taking your time as you progress through the game's map should get you to build up that experience quite nicely so you will never really have a board that you can't finish in one or two tries.

Game Mechanics:
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix has one main game mechanic change when compared to the previous title. It's a simple one, but it really does reshape the entire game. Galactrix's use of hexagonal tiles instead of square ones not only adds new directions that you can swap tiles, but the fact that the direction the tiles fill in the newly-created gap is determined by the direction you swapped the pieces adds a whole new level of strategy.

For instance, if you line up three tiles by selecting a piece and swapping it with the one below and to the right of it, then the tiles come down from the upper left corner. But if you performed the same swap, this time selecting the lower-right one first, then the pieces slide in from the bottom-right edge. It's a bit hard to explain on paper, and the only real way to get a hold of it and understand the nuances of this change is to go in and play the game. But the reason this adds new levels to the game's strategies is because you have to be that much more aware of what pieces could slide in from where, because you really don't want to set up your opponent to line up some big bombs and take you out. In the previous game, this was easier to manage, because tiles would only fall from the top, and you only had to worry about it being one column (if you made a vertical match) or three to six (depending on the length of your horizontal match) dropping from above. There wasn't ever the case of a block from the left side of the match sliding in to meet with a block on the right side.

It's also this simple change that makes the game that much more fun ... and torturous. Fans of the previous game should just go ahead and download this one. It's the same concept, just with a sci-fi theme and an added level of challenge. If you like puzzle games, but haven't played the standard Puzzle Quest before, then give the trial download a try beforehand, just to make sure you like what you are getting yourself into.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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