When Infinite Interactive released Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords in 2007, little did the company appreciate the repercussions of this seemingly innocent puzzle/RPG hybrid. By mating the character-building and plot-heavy traits of RPGs with simple, intuitive Bejeweled-style gameplay, Challenge of the Warlords quickly became a dangerously habit-forming distraction.
Puzzle Quest dependency is an ugly thing. I myself own no less than three copies of Challenge of the Warlords, and I have on more than one occasion considered buying copies for systems I don't even own on the off chance that a promotional PSP will magically appear one day in my mailbox. (Ball's in your court, Sony.)
Trying to explain my appreciation for Puzzle Quest only makes me sound like the business end of an intervention. The novelty engendered by Challenge of the Warlords' synergistic fusion is taken a little out of context when explained by your average Puzzle Quest addict, who is in all likelihood annoyed by the fact that you've interrupted his game and is spitting rapid-fire diatribes about stat growth and optimal item combinations at you in the hope that you'll either shut up and leave him to his precious or join him in his descent into total gem-matching destitution.
Only one surefire panacea exists for this condition, and Infinite Interactive has stumbled upon it: the craptastic follow-up. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is just that—a sequel so effectively divorced from everything that made Challenge of the Warlords a sleeper hit that it will easily shock the system of even the most hardened fanatic into disappointed sobriety.
The key to Challenge of the Warlords' success was the balancing act it did with the various disparate elements of the genres from which it borrowed. While not overly complex by any stretch of the imagination, Warlords maintained a uniformly fleshed-out sensibility. No single aspect overshadowed any other, and players who found themselves bored with the current path could pick from half a dozen other time-wasting diversions.
Galactrix takes that delicate balance and tosses it out the window. Despite claiming to be an across-the-board upgrade of the Warlords experience, Galactrix is a mish-mashed jumble of contrary elements cobbled together in an attempt to make lightning strike twice.
The Galactrix game world, for instance, is a standard two-dimensional sci-fi galaxy map, with a series of points plotted on the empty void of space and a web of lines representing warp zones drawn between them. Nothing out of the ordinary there, right?
But what happens when each gateway represented by those lines is inexplicably locked, and the only way to get from point A to points B through Z is to play a neutered version of the game you ostensibly thought you purchased? No upgrades, no weapons, and no strategy are involved, just you and a dozen or more three-gem matches (which must be made in specific order) and a timer which more often than not is too short to allow you to progress without wanting to toss the whole thing into orbit and be done with it.
Warlords knew better than to bother with anything of this sort. Its travel-based encounters were by no means as prevalent, serving more as a means by which to grind out levels and improve your character's stats. By using this mechanic as a cheap way to beef up the time requirement of a Galactrix play-through, Infinite Interactive has effectively removed the Quest from Puzzle Quest.
Adjustment for its own sake is present in every facet of Galactrix. Character creation, which in Warlords and its expansion consisted of eight distinct classes and nearly as many unique play styles, now comes down to which Generic Space Guy/Girl you want to see while you're skipping through the cut scenes. Skill sets are now a series of purchasable upgrades, reducing progression to a simple, boring min-maxing equation.
To its credit, Infinite Interactive is nothing if not thorough; the anathema that surrounds Galactrix penetrates all the way to the bone. The DS version manages to look like a port of a second-rate cellphone game while simultaneously requiring more load time than a flintlock blunderbuss. Its only saving grace is DS' touchscreen controls, which allow for a modicum of hassle-free interaction with the board. Console versions fare no better, as developer ambition somehow caused Infinite to cram enough code into a 300 MB download to choke an Xbox 360 during even casual gameplay sessions.
If you overdosed on Puzzle Quest the first time around, if your friends mocked you and your loved ones spoke in hushed tones about it, then Galactrix might be your ticket back to a normal life. Otherwise, don't bother, as the frustration of Galactrix is the cure for a condition that you don't have.