Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is one of the most enjoyable puzzle games to hit Xbox Live Arcade, with its mixture of classic Bejeweled-style puzzle play and role-playing spells. Come early next year, however, it'll make room for the future-themed Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. We got an early look at the game and think it's out of this world.
Rather than take place in the past (like Challenge of the Warlords), Galactrix's events unfold thousands of years in the future. Starships fly through space, transporting precious cargo and making its crews a whole lot of money. Opposing them are numerous aliens that seek to ruin their lives. In addition, pilots and diplomacy may also play a factor in the game's Story mode, although D3 Publisher didn't spill the beans when we asked.
Battling the aliens is done by selecting from several battleships. Some are smaller freighters with minimal firepower but excessive speed, while others are enormous structures that are fully armed but chug through space like a senior citizen on a golf course. Each ship has a certain number of slots for special attacks, which you can choose at your leisure. Select a smaller craft and you'll run the risk of not being as fully prepped in battle. However, you'll make more money, enabling you to keep your business running smoothly. Besides, having a big ship isn't always the answer. Sure, you'll decimate your opponent, but moving across the map suffers. The choice is yours.
One thing we can talk about, however, is the gameplay. Longtime Puzzle Quest fans will find it familiar to Challenge of the Warlords. You must still eliminate three or more gems by lining them up into rows. There are multiple colored gems available, including grey, red, yellow, green and purple. Each of these contributes to your special attack energy, letting you damage an opponent. If you prefer to eliminate them strategically, you can line up three or more mines in a row, taking a chunk of energy in the process.
Instead of taking place in a routine square grid (like Challenge), Galactrix features a hexagonal-shaped arena. This changes the gameplay, depending where you remove gems. For instance, if you take out gems from the left side, new pieces come sliding in from that side. If you go from the bottom, they rise up from the bottom. It's tricky at first, but easy to learn and utterly addictive.
Galactrix provides a fair amount of competition with various computer opponents, both human and alien. However, the real fun occurs with Xbox Live support. Galactrix features two-player online action through the service, so you can battle opponents from anywhere with your row-lining savvy and spell-casting know-how. D3 didn't demonstrate how this works, but expect it to have a similar battle format to Challenge of the Warlords. Hopefully there will be some leaderboards and possible ship trading available as well.
So far, the presentation is definitely up to par. The playfield is remarkably easy to see, with the hexagonal playfield staying in view and gauges that are easy to read. You can even keep an eye on your character and your opponent, if you need to remind yourself what (or who) you're battling. The intro screens are beautiful, as you fly through space. The music is good, but hard to hear at times with all the exploding puzzle pieces in the background.
You might as well get your Challenge of the Warlords fix out of the way, because once you check out Galactrix, you may never go back. Look for it to arrive on Xbox Live Arcade (as well as PC and Nintendo DS) early 2009.