Crispy Gamer

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

Last year's Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords married hardcore and casual gaming mechanics in an ingenious way. The game infused the tried and true role-playing mechanics of questing and customization with the addictive color matching of casual puzzle games like Bejeweled. The innovation was simple, yet ingenious. Traditional role-playing games have long depended on the monotony of turn-based battles to pad out the player grind. Why not use a game mechanic that folks actually enjoy to resolve monster battles? The game's reward for this innovation was the adoration of gamers of every stripe.

At the 2008 Gamer Developer's Conference, D3 Publisher gave the gaming press a very early look at the first sequel to their surprise hit. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix relocates the franchise from the fertile grounds of fantasy to the vast reaches of space. The changes in scenery aren't just superficial. The game's puzzle board and pieces are now hex-shaped. Our game board appeared to be in space, orbiting an alien world. The board was relatively circular, with metal wings fanning off on both sides. The upper left and right portrayed the two spaceships locked in battle. The lower regions handled resource counts and slots where the yet-to-be-implemented player skills would live.

Players still aim to line up and remove three colored pieces, but the new hex shape of the pieces and board allows for some interesting wrinkles. Gravity, depending on the part of space from which you're playing, will cause the hex gems to drop from different directions. In zero-g the gems have the ability to slide in from any direction. The direction in which the player slides the gem will determine the direction the pieces will fall. As before, the different colors are tied to skills, but rather than spells, these now affect the many traits of your spacecraft. Red charges weapons, yellow fuels your engine, green powers your CPU and so forth. As before, players will have an arsenal of ship-based powers that they can trigger during each battle, depending on the amount of color-centric points they've racked up.

The main goal of combat remains the same -- total destruction. The deadly skull pieces have been replaced by black hexagons with attack values marked on their surface. Ships have a base strength -- a sort of hull integrity. But you've first got to whittle away the enemy's protective energy shielding before you can really get down to doing serious damage.

Rather than character classes, like hunters and healers, the game will focus on different types of spacecraft. Loot will take the shape of ship blueprints and parts, which then can be crafted into cruiser upgrades. Players will be able to build a fleet of ships that they can use to truck around the galaxy. They'll also meet crew members that will tag along on their adventures. These companions will probably help win fights and at the very least push the story forward.

Just like the previous game, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix will have an underlying story that will serve as motivation for all the mini-game playing and loot collecting. Granted, the narrative in Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords didn't exactly set the world on fire, but it provided just the right amount of setting to give the game some context. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix aims to set its storytelling phasers on stun.

Tim Ramage, senior producer with Infinite Interactive, says the story will tackle the question, ?What if humans have no soul?? In the game's world, four mega-corporations rule the universe. One of these huge businesses isn't happy with owning a quarter of all creation. They're doing experiments that could bring about the end of civilization. Even Wal-Mart isn't that bad. In addition to this in-depth story, the game will employ a diplomacy system. Tons of in-game actions will affect your relationship with the game's different factions. Even trading will juice your reputation with the vendors with which you do business.

Ramage was careful to remind us that Puzzle Quest: Galactrix was still in the early stages of development. Many aspects of the game are still being worked out and many of the visuals we see in screenshots at this early date are using placeholder graphics. At press time, versions for the Nintendo DS, PC and Xbox Live Arcade are planned. Players can expect robust online experiences that may vary depending on which console they choose to play the game.

This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. No release date has yet been announced.