January 23, 2009

Puzzle Quest Galactrix preview

I love puzzle games and I love RPGs. Imagine my surprise back in 2007 when Puzzle Quest was announced. A game that combines puzzle grids with role playing? It seemed absurd. It turned out to be excellent. Galactrix aims to raise the bar... IN SPACE!! I had a chance to play it (the actual PC version, not the flash demo) and I've come away feeling good, but with a few concerns.

Basically, Galactrix works the same as the original game. You navigate your ship around the map to complete missions by pointing at a location and select it. A menu pops up that lets you activate a quest or a number of other things like shopping or upgrading your ship. Obviously, because it's in a scifi setting, there's not much in the way of one-on-one battles but ship-on-ship battles. Combat works much the same way it did in the last game, though on a hexagonal grid. Mach up three or more like colored tiles and your energy bar for the corresponding color increases. Red, green, and yellow tiles are used in combination to execute attacks to lower your opponent's health. Blue tiles recharge your shield which is especially useful if you don't have enough other colored tiles to use a shield repair ability. Purple tiles are for psi power, which I was unable to use in the portion I played. White tiles add bonus intel (experience) to your character at the end of a match. Finally, matching three or more numbered bombs will automatically attack your opponent and do as much damage as the sum of the numbers on the bombs.

Even though the game looks a lot like Hexic, it plays nothing like it. Tiles simply slide in the direction you click them, rather than falling from the top. For example, if I move one block to the left to match up three, new blocks will be pushed from the left of the screen to fill up the hole. The implementation of shields is the most significant gameplay change. You have to take them out before you can directly attack your opponent's health. Maintaining your shields becomes the most important element in any battle.

Collected intel can be used for a number of things including upgrading your ship (since you don't control your character directly) and getting new abilities. You can have a number of ships as well as a crew for them that preform specific tasks. That brings me to my next point: "minigames." In Galactrix you can mine for resources, craft items, and hack computers. Mining and crafting are accomplished by combining particular tiles together to obtain certain amounts of this and that. If I was building a new shield generator, for example, I'd have to combine the shield tiles together three times and the power tiles together six times. Likewise with mining, you combine tiles of ore together until you have run out of moves (there are "blank tiles" that serve no other purpose than to get in your way). Hacking tasks you with matching a certain amount of tiles in a certain amount of time in a certain sequence. That sounded really confusing. Ok, so let's say your hacking a terminal, it gives you 90 seconds to match 12 colors. The first is red. Match three reds, done. Next, blue. Match them, done. And so on until you either succeed or fail. My concern with this is that it seems well suited for the DS or computer where you can easily point and click, but not to consoles where you have to select with an analog stick. I fear it might be frustratingly difficult to complete in the allotted time if the developer doesn't address this. The only other gripe I have is that there was not enough combat and too many "minigames" in what I played. I assume the final game will even it out.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix looks very promising over all and I'm looking forward to it. Look for it on the DS February 24th and on the PC, XBLA, and PSN shortly thereafter.

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