From Infinite Interactive comes the sequel to the much lauded Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, a game that took the idea of the match three puzzle genre and managed to intertwine it remarkable well with RPG elements. The new game, not being content with its surface bound sibling's environment, takes the adventure into outer space; with it comes a few twists on the concepts from the previous outing and of course a brand new story.
Like the first game, the core mechanics revolve around matching three or more shapes of the same colour or symbol, thus eliminating them from the board. Rather than boring squares, Galactrix has hexagon gems as puzzle pieces, allowing pieces to be shifted across three axis instead of just two. Here shapes do not just fall downwards to replace those that have disappeared, but from all different directions, as if the board is rotating around a gravity source. At first this seems rather odd, until the player cottons onto the fact that this is actually the same direction as the gem the player moves. Something that needs to be kept in mind if large chains are to be gained.
As the player progresses through the story, team mates may join the crew of the ship. The first of those met, Lydia, is somewhat of a female Han Solo, and the dialogue is as contrived as that between Han and Luke. Hey, the galaxy can be a pretty small place, kid. Those looking for a prize winning novel are likely going to be disappointed, but fortunately much of the text can be skipped over, and it doesn't really need to be read in order to progress in the game. The different characters introduce the various mini-games the player will encounter, for example, Lydia allows the mining of asteroids and ED24 allows LeapGates to be hacked.
Perhaps the most irritating of these is the unlocking of LeapGates. Here, a series of colours are presented to the player that must be eliminated on the board in order within a strict time limit. Due to the random nature of the game, this can be very simple or extremely frustrating. The puzzles are listed from easy to hard, increasing the number of polygons to be destroyed, whilst reducing the number of seconds in which to do it. In reality the difficulty is often more down to the luck of the draw. The original Puzzle Quest also suffered from randomness and AI that somehow seemed to know just which piece in a puzzle to move for the best effect. Galactrix however, seems to suffer from this even more. Whether the extra movement available to the shapes is the problem, or whether the AI has just been given extra luck is unknown, but it does start to grate, even irritate after a while.
Once unlocked, LeapGates can be used to traverse what is quite a massive universe. There are well over thirty different galaxies in the game, and within each of these systems are several planets, space stations, shipyards and asteroids that can be visited. The size of the game does seem to take on a galactic feel, expanding over the first of the series by quite a margin. Whilst not all planets and space stations are there for quests to be obtained, every asteroid can be mined for materials, and each shipyard tends to have at least some different equipment available for sale. The cargo gained from mining can be sold for credits at these emporiums, and as the prices for the different elements varies from galaxy-to-galaxy, it gives a nice Elite feel to the game. This makes mining not just a pointless exercise, but one that can boost the coffers nicely.
Once exploration of universe gets under way, the player will end up in the Battle puzzles, which involves destroying an enemy by taking the opponent's shields and hull integrity down to zero. This is done by matching special mine gems of varying yields, or by using ship equipment such as lasers, field warps and all manner of novelty sci-fi gadgets. Many of these need some recharge time over a few turns, but as each ship has a limited number of slots that can be assigned to these skills, there is some definite strategic thinking needed here. It's similar to the magic available in the first game, yet somehow it never feels quite as rewarding.
Galactrix does have a decent game underneath the Sci-Fi veneer, and actually the introduction of some new themes and tactics into the puzzles has been done well. However, the implementation fails to live up to the original and never really feels as satisfying to play. Given the cost of things here, it's easy to hesitate over the buy button, but those that venture into this new Puzzle Quest universe will enjoy it as this is still an addictive, fun game, and one which will probably last just as long as the original.