Friday, August 7, 2009

Day 7: Puzzle Quest Galactrix

I started out excited to play this game. I'd played the XBLA version before and quite liked it, except for the fact that it seemed more suited to a mouse or stylus input device. I figured the DS version would be a blast.

And, in terms of core game play, I was not disappointed. I'm about 45 minutes in and even though in my heart of hearts I know PuzzleQuest is just a fancy launcher for a match-3 game, I already know that I have found another great time-waster game that will fill my bite-size game playing needs.

That said, the initial experience of the game was a little rough:

  • I failed right off the bat when it came to naming my character. I couldn't figure out the backspace key to delete the pre-populated name. And then I couldn't find the back button to try and start over. I had to accept a name I hated and then restart. Bad omen, right?
  • The basic tutorial/hint prompts for navigating around the world were fine. However, the tutorial totally broke down when it came to playing the match-3 game. The tutorial hints never fired -- but I did get a single "Tutorial" prompt a couple of times with a checkbox. It was impossible to tell from the graphical representation of the checkbox whether it was "on" or "off". Moreover, clicking the check also accepted the input, so I either turned it off or no (not sure which) and could not revert. I tried launching the game a couple of times and was unable to engage tutorial hints for the match-3 game.
Luckily I had played a previous version of the game and understood the basic concepts (different colored gems serve different purposes) well enough that I could eventually figure things out for the most part. There were some struggles, though:
  • It took me a while to figure out that mines were the way to damage the enemy.
  • It took me even longer to realize that there was both a shield and a health bar.
  • I'm still not sure what a couple of the colored gems do (I assume they're related to experience points and some other spendable currency).
For the most part, the initial experience seems structured well. You follow a linear path to begin with that introduces you to the core systems and mechanics of game play. Basically you get to explore an entire galaxy and engage in match-3 sessions to accomplish various goals. You have leveling, inventory, crafting, and NPCs to care about and monitor as well as a journal and map -- in other words, enough RPG-like components to keep you moving along and progressing.

My biggest complaint is that I've leveled up 4 times in 45 minutes and I still don't have a clear idea of why I should pursue any given strategy. You can allocate upgrades across one of four tech paths, but because I have no idea why I would want to specialize along any one path, I tend to just spread upgrades out evenly. I need to see some examples of "master techs" -- hints of what I can get if I choose to specialize in one or two of the paths -- in order to decide which path I want to plunder. My main fear is not wanting to feel burned if I find out I misspent my upgrades once these "master techs" are revealed .

Usability-wise, there are a number of annoyances, but nothing that blocks or significantly impairs the experience so far.
  • On the plus side, the game does make good use of on-focus help text. Tap an item on the touch screen and often there is some useful information to read about it on the top screen.
  • However, it's not always obvious what is tappable (for hint text) and where you need to tap it to engage the hint text.
  • The pause menu (off of the select button) has multiple tabs labeled with icons that are mostly incomprehensible. A "done" button appears at the bottom of each tab -- which is confusing because often I found myself "done" with the screen, but not wanting to exit the pause menu... Which is exactly what tapping the "done" button did. The bigger issue is one of discoverability, though. It seems like this menu should be available by tapping an on-screen menu/command icon. I also wonder whether it should have been teased on the Start button options as well (where I expected to find these options in the first place).
  • All in all, this is going to be a fun time-waster game. It's not as mentally stimulating (at least at this point) as Professor Layton's puzzles, but that's a good thing.
  • Also: Bonus points for easily skippable dialog.
Whew. Wrote all that on the quick plane ride from SEA->YEG. I have a feeling these next few posts are going to be a little briefer and more scattered than normal.

No comments: