Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was a bizarre hybrid of casual puzzle play with fantasy-based RPG elements and, frankly, should never have worked. But work it did, as anyone who fell victim to its insidiously addictive nature soon discovered. Its sequel, Galactrix (DS, XBLA, PSN, PC) takes a few wrong turns as it reworks the PQ formula, but you'll probably be too bleary-eyed from late nights of playing to really notice.
Galactrix ditches the sword and sorcery trappings of Warlords in favor of a sci-fi setting. Humans have found their way into the stars and are rubbing elbows with aliens, robots, and pirates as they make their way through the cosmos. You play as a young recruit, eager to make the most of your schooling and perform Mighty Deeds, only to get stuck running other people's errands. In other words, it's pretty much a direct rehash of the first game's plot, just with gravity beams instead of gryphons. Galatrix does add an interesting wrinkle by throwing in various factions, whose opinion of you will fluctuate depending on which quests you complete.
Once you get used to the new scenery, you'll notice that you're playing on a hexagonal board instead of a square one. It's not just an aesthetic change, though; whereas gems used to fall from the top to fill in gaps, now they come from whatever direction you moved the gem to make the match. It's a bit disorienting at first, but once you get used to it, it adds a nice level of strategy to the well-worn match-three mechanic. In addition to the fancy new board, Galactrix throws in a few new puzzle types to keep things feeling new. Battle is the same - form lines of same-colored gems or mines to do damage to your enemy - but now you'll also be matching gems to mine asteroids for resources, craft upgrades for your ship, haggle for better prices at the shop, and hack leapgates. It sounds overwhelming, but each puzzle plays out a little differently. Each gem you match while mining adds more swag to your payload, but when you're haggling, the object is to match as many gems as you can as the board collapses. Some of the new puzzle types are more satisfying than others, but the variety helps prevent Galactrix from feeling stale.
It won't, however, prevent Galactrix's leapgates from driving you nuts. The game's many planetary systems are connected by portals called leapgates. When you begin the game, the vast majority of them are offline; before you can travel anywhere, you must first hack the gate that opens the portal. To hack the gate, you must match a certain number of gems in a particular order before time runs out. In and of itself, that's not so bad, until you realize the sheer number of gates you have to hack to go anywhere. Galactrix is positively massive, jam-packed with dozens and dozens of systems. Hacking a gate here and there is no big deal - in fact, it can be quite fun - but having to hack five or six gates to get where you're going just to complete a piddly side quest is a real drag. Oh, and did I mention that hacked gates will occasionally go offline, forcing you to rehack them? Yeah.
Frustrating leapgates aside, Galactrix is every bit as addictive as the original Puzzle Quest - perhaps even more so because of its improved flexibility. The hexagonal board gives you more options for movement, and the ability to choose from a number of ships outfitted with whatever guns and shields suit your fancy prevents you from feeling like you're saddled with a pathetically underpowered character.
Bottom Line: You're not going to be blown away by the graphics, the writing, the sound, or even the plot, but that's not why you play Puzzle Quest , anyway. You play because you it will consume your soul and devour entire days' worth of free time without you ever really noticing or putting up much of a fuss. And that Galactrix does very, very well.
Recommendation: If you liked the first one, or just feel like you've seen far too much sunlight lately, just go ahead and buy it. If you're new to the whole PQ thing, still buy it - you are getting a whole lot of game for just $20.
Yeah, I know I called them "jumpgates" in the video. I was up way too late playing the damn game and clearly didn't get enough sleep. Apologies for the error.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
Susan Arendt thinks there should be a fruity cereal called Galactrix that's shaped like UFOs.