We linked to the online demo before, because we're all about the linking. But that was just a single battle against a bloke who thrashed everyone, it seems. Now there's a proper PC game demo out which allows you to play the first five (Count 'em!) character levels and generally explore its puzzle-game cosmos. Impresions follow...
First, you have to choose what your character looks like. Which, because it isn't actually a game-influencing choice, is the most important thing to take some screenshots of...
This one looks a lot like Neve Campbell.
Meanwhile, this one looks like the non-threatening punk girl who John Walker would pine over.
There's also two blokes, but I'm told that pictures of girls in internet posts will lead to more hits, so I didn't bother grabbing them. Maybe I'll save it up for a Who Does Leigh Alexander Fancy In Puzzle Quest Galactrix post down the line.
Anyway, I went for the non-threatening girl - in the game, only in the game - and started to have a nose around. Puzzle Quest veterans may have raised an eyebrow at the lack of a real character-select screen, in terms of selecting a class with its own powers. But in a move which will please Jim, its character development rather than based on some kind of class-based system is based upon purchasing space-ships, crafting better weapon skills and (er) mining.
(Well, there's a level-system in there too, with you spending skill-points across four classes - Gunnery, Engineer, Science and Pilot (Being Red, Green, Yellow and Blue power-ups respectively), but the actual skills are gained during play).
Its basic structure is very Puzzle Quest, but ends up feeling more like Space Rangers 2 due to you flying around the solar systems and then leaping on a higher level map between them. Also, cute little vapour trails. The plot is agreeably ludicrously melodramatic - essentially 2000AD's Nemesis the Warlock with added self-awareness. And someone saying stuff about fire and destruction in a single voice. Hmm.
While the demo cuts off before you've really gained enough specialist equipment to reallty see the battle game at its best (i.e. Have special abilities you're trying to optimise), it does show the alternative games. They actually seem more central this time than last. For Example, the hacking subgame is used to unlock warpgates, so allowing you to travel to new sections - which you'll end up doing every time you go anywhere new. It's also the least interesting riff. More cute are the mining and crafting ones. I suspect mining will end up being a side-line for added resources (in it, you have special hexes you have to annihilate a certain number of) but the crafting (as it's the main source of new powers) will be all over the place. It's actually got a neat repeating-disappearing-hex thing, where you have to make a line disappear, creating a new hex type, and then line up the newly-created hex-types to harvest them.
It's actually far more promising than I initially thought from the online demo. While Puzzle Quest was a chimera of RPG and puzzle game tropes, this actually does feel more like a cross between something like Freelancer or Space Rangers 2 and the puzzle game. It's the same thing, only not. The biggest worry remains the actual hexagonal grid itself, which I still haven't mastered and - as such - feels more random than last time. Still: looking forward to this now.