Casual and role-play gaming work side by side in Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (D3 Publisher of America, DS, $29.99). This follow-up in the series moves from the realm of swords and sorcery to a serious sci-fi story about mankind's domination and corruption of the universe.
A player takes control of a junior pilot fresh from the Multinational Resource & Investment Academy and travels the galaxy to stop the potential genocide of humanity and save other life forms.
Crossing through planetary systems by unlocking Leapgates, interacting with hostile and friendly species, mining for raw materials and upgrading ship parts are just some of the elements that bring the player into the impressive adventure.
Accomplishing these tasks mainly requires engaging in more than 150 rounds of turn-based, cerebral action within a hexagonal arena befitting Bejeweled.
Colored gems fill up a game board and a player must consistently match at least three pieces of the same color vertically, horizontally or diagonally to acquire points, accomplish goals, collect powers and continue the narrative.
A stubborn relationship between the stylus and touch screen is unfortunate, especially in timed rounds, as it requires both a magnifying glass and the finesse of a brain surgeon to pick out the gems accurately.
The role-playing certainly adds another layer to the events as the player eventually can stock three ships, barter for cargo and find other crew members on his journeys to the final frontier.
Colorful comic-book-quality illustrations with a creative set of characters supplement the flow of text bubbles while a never-ending branching of solar systems and options for resource management can be slightly overwhelming.
Depth down to monitoring the standing of 30 factions, eventual access to more than 30 customizable ships and always looking to upgrade gunnery, engineering, science and piloting skill points clearly takes the title beyond the casual gaming genre.
It's a potent package that will alter a gamer's understanding of the traditional puzzler.
Learning time: Decision-making, sequencing and logic skills are all-important as the player digs deeper into Galactrix. Be it tracking statistics, satisfying gem collection conditions or the way to upgrade a ship's power, it all gives the noggin a workout.
Further complicating matters is an additional layer of strategy in which gems do not just cascade from the top of the screen to refill the board but can come from any side depending on a player's matchings.
Age range: Any tween who loves to solve puzzles and become part of an intense story will appreciate exploring the Galactrix universe. The game clearly gives hours of play potential and works for those obsessed with micromanagement as well as those looking for entertaining distractions in bite-size missions.
Final advice: I would love to play Puzzle Quest: Galactrix on a more powerful system and on a big screen — an Xbox Live Arcade version is coming soon — but its portability and the minutia packed into the DS adventure makes it well worth buying.
• Joseph Szadkowski's ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.