The universe of match-three puzzle games has been explored and charted, surveyed and oriented, discovered and rediscovered. Far from the undiscovered country it once was, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix arrives in a crowded territory aspiring to be its crowning jewel.
Name recognition gives the game a competitive edge, yet silly shortcomings prevent this ambitious sequel from warping the young series to the next level.
Galactrix drafts you into an intergalactic corporate military force on the eve of a freak failure in the galaxy's leap gate system. Travel among the galaxy's star systems comes to a halt, inciting panic as fear of a greater catastrophe mount.
Fortunately, you have the ability to hack open the leap gates by moving coloured tiles with your stylus. Once again, the fate of humanity rests in your puzzle-solving skills.
Matching like-coloured tiles clears them from the touchscreen. Each colour is tied a particular effect, such as white intel tiles that grant experience when cleared and black mines that damage your enemy when matched up.
Victorious battles have you seizing mines to eliminate your opponent's shield, then honing in on the hull for the kill. Numerals on the mines designate the amount of damage exacted when cleared, which increases during four-of-a-kind, five-of-a-kind, and cascading combos.
Other tiles - red, yellow, green, blue, and purple - give you access to special items in battle among other things. Defensive measures and weapons alike are activated through red, yellow, and green tiles cleared during combat.
Firing off a basic attack laser, for example, costs five red tiles. As you advance through the game and acquire more items, battles become more than just match mines: it becomes a balance of clearing coloured titles for item use, collecting experience to level up, and seeking mines to attack your enemy. This lends a tactical tinge to Galactrix no other puzzle series possesses.
Unfortunately, skill isn't always rewarded and smart tactics don't always pay off. Chance plays too great a role in combat, and victory is too often determined by the random placement of tiles on the screen.
The contrast is stark: sometimes the tiles are stacked in your favour, while other times it's clear from the moment a battle starts they aren't.
The problem persists outside of combat. When mining for resources, hacking a leap gate, or investigating a rumour the random placement of tiles can often force you to replay even the simplest of puzzles over and over again.
Randomness is necessary to keep things fresh, yet Galactrix errs in creating puzzles that are entirely too chancy. Levelling up helps stack the odds in your favour, but even then the haphazard nature of play can leave you in a tactical black hole. A bit of tweaking is needed to balance the role of chance to ensure skill is rewarded.
Other less critical issues require remedy as well. The touchscreen controls need to be tightened up, firstly. Responsiveness is an issue when tapping objects with the stylus, the game frequently not registering taps. Activating a menu option, for instance, often means tapping it two or three times before the game registers the selection.
The presentation could stand to dry dock for improvement. Visually, Galactrix just doesn't pop on DS. Tiles are fuzzy, the performance slightly slow during battles.
The artwork is quite nice, at least. But the gothic music is mismatched to the gameplay. Instead of a some ominous cathedral hymnal, a synthesised sci-fi soundtrack would be more fitting.
Plenty of shortcomings can be cited as making Galactrix a less than extraordinary follow up, yet that doesn't imply there's no value here. There are hours upon hours of decent match-three puzzling is to be had, albeit with some compromises.
Turn down the sound to avoid listening to the creepy music, tap the screen hard when playing, and welcome your chancy new match-three gaming overlord.