Puzzle Quest: Galactrix Preview

I am fairly confident that with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (PC, 360, DS) developer Infinite Interactive is beginning the second phase of its master plan to destroy the world.

The first Puzzle Quest, Challenge of the Warlords, was a near-perfect blend of simplistic match-three-or-more-of-the-same-color gameplay. with a host of RPG-style mechanics like spells and experience. The result was an addictive tour de force that surprised nearly everyone, and eventually hit every major platform other than the PlayStation 3.

The sequel--now slated to debut early next year instead of the original fall 2008 date--looks to expand on all of that. Sure, the fantasy elements have been replaced by a sleek sci-fi aesthetic, the orbs are now hexagons, and now you have to worry about gravity dictating where new pieces come from, but the core gameplay is unchanged.

It's more than just matching up random pieces that happen to share the same color. Those aren't just a bunch of useless red blocks--lining them up could give you the red energy needed to unleash a destructive attack. So what's different this time around?

For starters, gravity, or the lack thereof, now plays a pretty important role. Zero-G space battles mean blocks don't just fall from the top anymore--they shift around based on the last action.

Let's say you move a block left, and it then zaps an entire cluster out of existence. Instead of falling down, all chips to the right will slide left, and the new blocks will come in from that direction. To see this in action, check out the footage below:

Though the whole gravity thing adds another layer of strategy to the game, I'm still not sure if I like it. I'm afraid that it'll make everything too complicated, that AI opponents will annihilate me with combos I never saw coming, and that Galactrix will lose some of the pick up and play appeal that defined the original.

Fortunately, both developer Infinite Interactive and owner D3Publisher are well aware of these concerns, even if they don't share them.

"At this point, we're not concerned [about accessibility] at all," producer Marcus Savino told me when I broached the subject, noting that both D3 and Infinite Interactive use playtesting to balance the game.

"The way that we make it more accessible is through tutorials and explanations and things like that," he explained. "Because we're still pre-alpha, there's still many things about the game that are going to be changing, and accessibility is definitely important to us."

Another change from the original Puzzle Quest is the lack of established player classes. Instead of being stuck in a particular class for the entire game, players can now amass an armada of customizable ships, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

As players use the overworld map to progress from battle to battle, they will discover that the scope of the game's economy has been greatly expanded through the ability to influence trade prices based on one's carried cargo and status with the multiple factions.

These mechanics are purely optional, Savino noted. The game can be easily beat without fussing around with them, though the option is there for hardcore players.

As my time with Galactrix was winding down, I questioned how the studio was bringing the title's larger game board to the DS, given that the system had issues with tiny pieces on first game's smaller board.

"Obviously, we're going to be using every ounce of real estate we have," Savino laughed. "To be honest with you, we thought that the [pieces in the] DS version of Challenge of the Warlords were a little too small."

"The whole bottom screen [in the DS version of Galactix] is basically the puzzle board, and the top screen will be all the information," he continued. "I think that we have some really elegant solutions that make an improvement upon the last iteration."

Lastly, I asked why Galactrix wasn't hitting the PSP, as the original Puzzle Quest did when it first released, and wondered if Wii or PlayStation 3 editions were planned.

"There is no answer to that, unfortunately," Savino said of my PSP-related query, while my questions about Wii or PS3 versions were met with a standard "no response,"

Developed by Infinite Interactive, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is slated to hit PC, Xbox 360's online Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo DS between January and March 2009

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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