8 Hours Later — Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a puzzle game dressed up like a sci-fi space adventure; sort of a “Mass Effect” for people who eat paste. As a role-playing game, it’s positively two dimensional — like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” turned paint-by-numbers and put on the back of a laminated Denny’s placemat. But let me be clear: I love a good laminated placemat.

Gameplay is standard for the Puzzle Quest series, with players switching pieces on a board to line up at least three tiles of the same color. The twist is that games take place in “zero gravity” on a hexagonal board. While other matching games have new tiles enter the board from the top and fill blank spaces by moving downward, new tiles in Galactrix enter from (and move in) any one of six directions, depending on the last move that you made to line up a row.

See? Space Owls.Galactrix has some outer-space visuals and adds a plot that does its best to tell a story about space travel, shadowy megacorporations, and intergalactic war. It’s even got space owls and space dinosaurs, but it’s still a matching game. If you aren’t interested in looking for patterns and switching tiles around to create an occasional explosion, this game will be as exciting as a seminar on minimizing taxable capital gains. (Note: the previous sentence assumes that you’re not one of those tax code fetishists. If you are, then you should probably avoid this game anyway in favor of printing out a transcript of the last senate finance committee hearing and rubbing it against your bare chest, you pervert.)

Variations on a Theme

In Galactrix, the most dramatic experiences come from the combat puzzles, where you and the computer opponent take turns making matches to damage each other. You also find five other “crew members” who let you participate in different types of puzzles, some more enjoyable than others.

The easiest way to make money in the game is by mining, where you make as many matches as possible before “locking” the board (which occurs when there are no moves left to make). There’s also crafting, where you make certain types of matches and avoid locking the board in order to receive better equipment for your ship. You can bargain for deals in shops by matching to remove all the tiles from the board, and you can collect information by matching some tiles in order to prevent other tiles from lining up in a row.

Most of these side activities can be avoided, but most of your time will be spent “hacking,” or participating in time trials.

I Heart Time Trials

The hacking minigame. You will see a hell of a lot of it.The Galactrix universe comprises a mass of star systems strategically linked by jump gates. Thanks to writer’s fiat/a computer virus, all of these gates are initially closed, and you need to hack them back open. You can only gain access to new systems and missions through these hacking time trials — jump gates are opened by lining up a specific series of color matches before your time limit runs out, and as you progress further through the galaxy you are forced to make more matches in less time.

There is no way around the jump gates; if you want to see anything beyond the first star system, or uncover any of the plot, you will be opening a lot of them. And then re-opening them when they close randomly over time.

This quickly gets frustrating because there is no way to make the jump gate challenges easier. You can acquire better ships and buy more powerful equipment to help with the combat puzzles, but eight hours later I still haven’t found anything that gives you an advantage in the time trials. You either figure out how to spot patterns and work the board more efficiently, or you snap the game’s disc in half out of spite.

Groundhog’s Galaxy

Combat in outer space. The future has explosive mines lying around EVERYWHERE.Luck plays a major part in all of the Galactrix challenges. The color sequence needed to unlock jump gates is randomly determined, so sometimes it’s a matter of re-starting until the pieces on the board are in your favor. In combat, huge swathes of tiles can get cleared in one move, and if their replacements happen to line up the right way, you are credited for staggeringly powerful double and triple combos.

Sometimes you benefit from these surprise combo attacks, and sometimes your opponent rips apart your shields and tears halfway through your hull because of tiles that didn’t even exist before they made their move.

In a standard role-playing game, you can go out and grind for experience when a boss monster is too difficult to tackle. While you can grind for experience in Galactrix, it’s easier just to keep re-starting a match until you get one of these runs of good luck. There’s no reason not to, since there’s no penalty for losing a challenge, and you get to keep your experience even from failed battles.

Ultimately, Galactrix looks like a space exploration/adventure game, but it doesn’t play like one. It’s up to individual taste to determine whether its matching games are varied enough to stay interesting.

There’s a valiant effort to give you a space-age explanation of why you’re lining up puzzle tiles, but you still end up shuffling a lot of tiles.

About B. Indifferent

Bitterly Indifferent is a belligerent hillbilly with a substandard internet connection. He is also a fan of retro gaming who has previously written about the state of games journalism and the intersection of games and family.