I still haven’t made up my mind about Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. It never grabbed me in the same way as its predecessor; how much of that is due to novelty wearing off, how much is due to the strangely low quality of the DS port, and how much of that is due to the core mechanics?

I actually don’t think it’s the core mechanics, though it may be due to the peripheral mechanics. The non-fixed gravity, once I got used to it, does make the game slightly richer: in particular, any time you swap gems, you have the choice of two directions in which to carry out that swap (and to have pieces subsequently fill in from). That gives you something extra to think about, and meant that playing the game wasn’t exclusively an extension of the habits that I’d built up with its predecessor.

That’s the main combat mode; like its predecessor, there are another half-dozen or so variants of the gameplay, used in different situations. These took me a while to get used to—in particular, like Bill Harris, I didn’t initially appreciate the way that the leap gate mode punished you for setting off chains. (Incidentally, Bill has two other posts on the game; not so much blog discussion of it in general.)

Thinking about it a bit more, though, I eventually changed my mind on that issue. If all the mini-games had the same rules, there wouldn’t be much point of having mini-games; so there’s a real benefit in having what’s good in one mini-game be indifferent or even bad in another. And, on a more subtle point, the main attack game is probably the deepest of all the gameplay modes (which is a good thing!); the other games are typically more focused, and it turns out that the tricks that you learn to focus on from them can help broaden the range of your tactics in the main attack game. For example, a key part of the attack mode game play involves making sure that your moves don’t set up good attacks by your opponent. Controlling cascades is an important aspect of that; the rumor game mode focuses on that, and (as noted above) controlling cascades is also an important part of the warp gate game. Similarly, you have various items which will allow you to move twice in a row; the warp gate game helps you focus on setting up attacks one move out.

So it’s a nicely crafted set of games, one which adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Though they’re not all fabulous; in particular, the games that try to get you to use up most or all of a fixed set of gems didn’t work too well for me, certainly not as well as the monster capture game in Challenge of the Warlords.

The upshot of all of that is that I support the game’s primary mechanics, and some of its peripheral mechanics. Other parts of the peripheral mechanics, though, didn’t work as well for me. In the game’s predecessor, you had a leveling up system that was most important mechanism for acquiring new abilities (not just buffing your stats), which culminated (when you reach the level cap) in a spell that let you largely take control of battles; the game controlled the levels/abilities of enemies that you fought to generally give you well-matched battles. In Galactrix, however, abilities are controlled by buying items for your ships (and you may need to get better ships to have more slots for items). So you have access to abilities earlier, and it’s harder for the game to match your level.

The result is that, on the one hand, I had some early boss fights that were way too hard for me; on the other hand, about halfway through the game I had a ship that had enough slots for a set of items that enabled me to control the playing field whenever I needed to. So, while having more choices for customization sounded nice in theory, in practice it didn’t work out too well. (And, I will add, the way it turned out is a bit of a blessing in disguise: if I’d had to do more customization, I would have had to spend more time grinding on areas of the game that I didn’t particularly enjoy.)

Some interesting seeds here, but I’m still left with an unsettled feel for the game. Coming in, I wasn’t sure if the original Puzzle Quest was a one-trick pony; having played the second game, I’m still not sure! Or rather, it’s clearly not a one-trick pony, but it might be a one-and-a-half trick pony; on the other hand, it wouldn’t completely shock me if the next iteration put it all together in a satisfying way.

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