Galactrix is a direct successor of our old acquaintance, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, and the second attempt of Infinite Interactive to implement the simple gameplay of Bejeweled in an RPG universe.
For those who do not know it (!?!) or can’t put a name to the face, Bejeweled is the game where all you have to do is rotate different colored stones to form chains of three or more of the same type. Once grouped in this way, the pieces disappear, replaced with the ones from above that fall to fill the newly created gaps.
If in Challenge of the Warlords (CotW) the designers enchanted us with a medieval-magic-Tolkien-like story, in Galactrix, driven and empowered by the unexpected success of the first title, they bet on the card of the future.
A thousand generations flew by our sorcerer and now we see him as a young pilot building his future amidst planets and galaxies. Animals that you could once ride on turned into spacecrafts, spells have become weapons, everything has evolved, even the stones on the battlefield: they were square once, now they’ve become hexagons. The journeys from one town to the other that once took you weeks now seem like a breeze, even though the distances are a million times longer, as they are now covered within minutes through intergalactic gates.
This invention has enabled humankind to bloom, to colonize entire galaxies and discover new intelligent races, but it was also cause for controversy and war. Once in a while, our sorcerer gets nostalgic, thinking about the maps of the old days and the charm of discovering new places, but wouldn’t give up the complete, three-dimensional map of the world stored in the computers of modern ships for anything. He inhales with pleasure the fragrance of technology and his head feels dizzy thinking about the unlimited opportunities and discoveries that await him.
The hibernation is over! It’s time to conquer the universe.
I am convinced that many of you, such as those who wanted to play CotW, those who did play it and wanted more, or those who are now looking over the screenshots and are enticed by the concept, feel like the man described above, and would probably prefer to put the current review aside and try this wonder that Galactrix appears to be. But something is stopping you, and the score at the top of the page instills the venom of doubt in you, like a poisoned dagger. Don’t be mean, it is a passing mark, right? It’s enough, it’s exactly the score that most misunderstood geniuses used to get in school (or so we like to believe).
It’s not enough for me though, because I believe that what you once created with passion cannot be improved and reinvented without twice as much work, and with Galatrix this is not the case. It seemed easy to diversify and add to a Bejeweled-like game a story and a few heroes with some attributes, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why many of us, editors, gave a lower mark to the previous title. But, unfortunately, Galactrix only emphasizes the contrary, through a false representation.
The most evident change and the one that had the largest impact on the game play is the introduction of the six-sided pieces, a move that seems, as at first sight all seem in this game, to bode well. We now have three directions to move on, and the pieces are not flat anymore, as they were before: they enter the game due to lack of gravity, from the direction you made the last move.
Thus, at any time you can choose which of the two blocks of stones flanking the thread you built have to move into the gap, and all these things only widen the strategic environment we enjoyed in the first part of the game. Or so I thought.
I remember that in CotW I cursed a lot when the stones aligned in impossible to predict combinations and put the enemy at an advantage. Well, thanks to the new shape of the stones, the possibilities to build an unwanted chain now increase considerably.
The smart moves are replaced by a cheap show and you can find yourself loosing at any time after the AI moves a piece which leads to the extinction of up to 80 percent of pieces from the board, or being witness to the repeated and mindless combination of mines (stones that do damage). That’s how you lose the sense of purpose when building an attack or a repressive move (as close as possible to the edge, or ways to steal / destroy the colors which the adversary needs most), everything becomes chaotic and, oh how I hate this cliché, "casual".
Big and Empty
The likelihood of Infinite Interactive not having noticed this difference seems null to me. I long weighed my initial opinion, even asked for additional thinking time, just to be absolutely sure of saying, regretfully, that the game was left in this form… out of laziness.
Solving it was simple and could have been achieved by introducing at least one more type of stones, which would have limited the momentum of the silly undesirable combinations and would have added a hint of strategy. Even so, the mauve stones quickly lose their usefulness and the weapons are even less demanding: to enable them you now need a range of only three colors, compared to the four colors necessary for CotW spells.
Of course, a new stone would have meant a great deal of hard work for those in charge of balancing the game, but since balancing is almost nonexistent, I don’t understand why they didn’t introduce it anyway. Yes, unfortunately, the game has problems in this area too, as the fierce battles of the old times are gone now. I finished the game with a ship hugely inferior compared to the Evil’s one and I didn’t raise my hero attributes at all.
You might lose once in a while, often even, if you don’t spend enough of your time buying and testing the tens of existing weapons, but most of the time you do it thanks to the phantasmagoric and lucky combinations of pieces that the AI unleashes, which I don’t find amusing at all.