I loved playing Puzzle Quest on my Nintendo DS. It was intuitive, inventive and, whenever I ran into a challenge I could not beat the first time, I was excited to try it again. Eventually, I ran across a copy of the follow-up, Puzzle Quest Galaxtrix, at Big Lots for somewhere around $3.00 - a great deal, I thought. I mean, it was a "Best of E3!" pick, so it had to be good, right?
This game is frustrating, dull, and un-engaging. I found myself skipping through dialogue and flipping off the screen more times than I'd care to admit. So what the heck went wrong with Puzzle Quest Galatrix? How could it be so different from the addictive fun of Puzzle Quest?
In a word: leapgates.
The map of the galaxy is made up of sectors that you have to jump to using leapgates. Unfortunately, they have all been disabled by some kind of virus, so you have to 'hack' them. Hacking involves matching colored sets in a specific order before time runs out. It's similar (in concept, if not in practice) to training monsters in Puzzle Quest. The game's core play mechanic is where this becomes almost unplayable.
Whenever you make a match, there is a short animation that plays where the crystals turn to energy and zap over to the player info. New tiles then fall in and, if any other matches happen, the animation plays for them and you wait until any subsequent matches from incoming tiles are over.
During this process, the timer never stops counting down - even during the animations and new tiles appearing. You don't get any bonus time for matching regular tiles. Instead there are special 'timer' tiles scattered across the board that will give you 10 seconds if you match them; by which time you will have burned up most of your timer. Unwittingly setting off a cascade of matches - which is easy to do, since you have no idea what will be falling in - will eat up most, if not all, of your time.
The easier gates have more time and/or less required matches, while the harder gates have less time and/or more required matches to open them. And what do you get when you open a gate? Another sector whose gates must be opened before you can proceed. And not all sectors have anything worth getting to, either - but you won't know that until you open the gate and fly your ship there. Imagine my joy at taking 20-something attempts to get a hard leapgate hacked, only to end up in a sector that nothing worth buying/mining, and no missions to take.
As I was collecting missions, I noticed a bunch of them had zero connection to the plot and required me to cross the galaxy. For example, one planet had a set - more than one! - of missions concerned with delivering food. I played every single side mission in Puzzle Quest; at least they involved people in need of a champion to right wrongs and fight evil. In Galactrix, people are literally looking for an intergalactic delivery boy. It's bad enough having to do that across one sector map, but a across ten (or more)? Screw that, man.
I don't know who was responsible for giving this game a "Best of E3!" award, but I cannot believe they played it for more than half an hour at most. I made it about three and a half.