Puzzle Quest: Galactrix – hands-on

In story mode, one of the first things we learn is that a virus has attacked all leapgates in the system, which as you might guess has completely crippled the transportation system of all space-faring society. So, unlike the original PQ where map locations automatically become accessible as you progress, you must successfully hack each leapgate in order to gain access to more of the map.

Hacking a leapgate involves a minigame that’s a time-attack variation of the core puzzle gameplay. You’re given a list of colored gems, and you must match each color in the queue before progressing to the next one, and complete the entire queue within a time limit. You can match as many other gems in between as you’d like, and sometimes you’ll need to make some random matches in order to get enough of the color you need on the board. There are also clock-shaped gems on the board that will add time back to the clock if you match them. Of all the minigame variations, leapgate hacking is probably our favorite – racing against the clock makes it easily the most exciting of the single-player puzzle types.

Another game in story mode you’ll want to master is item crafting. This has the same feel as forging items in Challenge of the Warlords, but isn’t exactly the same. For each item, you’ve got a set quota of components you need to match before you run out of moves (technically called a black hole in Galactrix, which is equivalent to a mana drain in original PQ). By matching different colors of gems, you create a component of the corresponding color, and then those components can be matched together regardless of color to meet your quota. It sounds easy, but with a bunch of junk and biohazard gems littering the board, sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to meet your quota before you run out of moves.

We’re really excited about how Galactrix is shaping up, and can’t wait to sink in to the DS version when it releases on February 24 (we’re told PC, PSN and XBLA versions will follow shortly). In particular we were impressed with the way Galactrix’s interface has been specially tailored for the DS version of the game. Especially since it seems so many casual PC games that have been ported to DS have suffered from the transition to the small screen (like interfaces that are shrunk down so small that stylus control becomes difficult, for example), it’s nice to see the special care taken here.

Read on for an exclusive interview with Galactrix producer Marcus Savino, where he pits mermaids against unicorns and talks about how the casual game industry can improve.

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