Monday, June 15, 2009

demo monday: puzzle quest galactrix

pew pew pew I was a big fan of D3 Publisher’s Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords when it came out a couple of years ago, as were many others. It was not without its problems but it was ultimately a unique take on two tiredness-prone genres, genre one being the RPG and genre two being Bejeweled and all Bejeweled-like spin-offs under the sun.

So, people liked this game. There were news stories and comics and stuff done about it. It was, for its part, Noteworthy. Earlier this year, a sequel finally hit: Puzzle Quest: Galactrix took the same color-matching up-leveling gameplay and sent it Where No One Has Gone Before (into space). Do the changes mix up the original gameplay sufficiently? Is the core game as fun and addictive as it was two years ago? Can the demo effectively answer this question? Read on for my impressions!

Galactrix’s main gameplay tweak is the new hexagonal playing field – Challenge of the Warlords took place on a vertical playing field more in line with the original Bejeweled, with new gems dropping in from the top of the screen as old ones were cleared. On the new battlefield, gems come from the same direction as you moved your last piece. While the concept is the same, this new wrinkle does exercise your brain in different ways.

From what I saw, that was just about everything that was new about the game. It is otherwise a reskinned Challenge of the Warlords.

Galaxtrix features a number of different types of game board, including ones for battling, mining, and hacking. The goals are slightly different for each – your goal in battle mode is to match mine gems to damage your opponent, while mining you as tasked with matching a certain number of specific gems, and in hack mode you’re tasked with making matches in a particular sequence. These are welcome variations on a theme, but are mostly analogous to the different gameplay modes in the prior Puzzle Quest, in which you played with different goals based on whether you were fighting, leveling up your mount, or forging new equipment.

Also like the last game, Galaxtrix lacks a certain amount of polish, especially where storytelling is concerned. Granted, puzzle games are not where most come for their moving, in-depth narratives, but in a series so creative, why not go the extra mile and make the story engaging? Galactrix’s narrative is told mostly by static images of characters with speech bubbles over their heads – hardly the most engaging method of narrative delivery – and from details to larger themes the script is clunky and awkward at best. My character, for example, was a young pilot at the top of his graduating class who was constantly wondering out loud why he had been sent away to fight Pirates on mining outposts. There is some mystery and some intrigue, I guess, but it’s very obviously beside the point and there is little effort on the part of the game’s developers to make you think otherwise.

This one’s a tough call to make. On the one hand, fans of the original Puzzle Quest will find the formula from the last game very much intact. On the other hand, not much has improved – the game, especially its script and story, could use a complete refit, and while the hexagonal playing field shakes up core concept of the game, the differences between Galactrix and Challenge of the Warlords from a gameplay perspective are few. Since those of you who have read this post this far are probably interested in my opinion, I personally will choose to pass this one up. That being said, people who missed the first Puzzle Quest and people who know they’ll like this game should still buy it – it’s not that Galactrix is bad, it’s just that we’ve seen a lot of it before.

Puzzle Quest: Galaxtrix is currently available on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1600 Microsoft Points, on the Playstation Store for $20, on the Nintendo DS for $19.99, and on the PC via Steam or as a boxed product for $19.99. Played single-player Xbox demo for about an hour.