Hands-on / Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (DS)

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is the spiritual sequel to Infinite Interactive’s sneak-up-and-love-you-from-behind Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords that took the gaming world by storm with its unique blend of match-three puzzler and RPG elements. I will admit that I was a dirty whore for the game and pretty much spread it to everyone I could with reckless abandon. After my recent hands-on with the DS version of Galactrix, I know I’ll be going down that path once again and using the trusty, “I was young and needed the money” excuse. Addicts beware.

On the surface, Galactrix is Challenge of the Warlords with a sci-fi makeover. Colors still correspond to power types used for items (magic, basically), adventuring is done via an overworld map, combat is 1-on-1 and the AI can totally dick you in the face with health crushing moves. However, there are some tweaks to the formula that make it feel new, yet comfortably familiar for veterans wanting the same great taste.

This time around, there’s a much bigger focus on story. Details were not able to be given, but you start as a young pilot who finds himself in the middle of what could be a growing war in space. A diplomacy system involving multiple factions plays into this which will determine what races hate you, love you, want to do you and want give you missions. You are able to play sides with the trading system by selling items to the factions or flipping them the bird and becoming a filthy rich privateer, dealing only with shops. Capitalism: It’s fantastic! There’s also the added bonus, since space involves badass spaceships, of having shields which can be refilled during battle by matching the corresponding blue tiles. It’s possible to dominate by being a total bastard and hoarding shield tiles to ruin your opponent’s day.

The board itself is also different; switching up the squared-off missionary position for a more adventurous, almost circular configuration. With the new layout also comes a slightly different strategy element in that pieces don’t always refill from the top. Instead, pieces refresh from all sides, depending on which direction your move is made. So, should you move a piece from right to left, the new pieces will come in the same way. It’s pretty cool and admittedly, not really something I picked up on right away. For anyone concerned about fitting all this awesome into the confines of the DS, fear not, as graphically the developers were able to keep an impressive level of detail and fit everything into a space that doesn’t feel cramped or look cheap.

The DS version promises to deliver the same amount of content as its PC big brother, albeit shrunk down to fit the handheld goodness. With a HUGE galaxy to explore (seriously, it’s absolutely insane), tons of side quests, items to collect and plenty of ships to buy and upgrade with pew pew lazers, Galactrix looks like it will be another hard habit to quit.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is due out Feb. 24 for Nintendo DS and sometime in early 2009 for PC, XBLA and PSN.