I gained early access to Arctic Empire’s  latest game, Galaxy Express , which has now launched in the iTunes App Store . This latest release is a puzzle game that features main character Jonathan Rowe, whose task is to deliver packages to the many planets sprinkled throughout the galaxy. He has a cranky boss named Mr. Bluckerman and a cheeky robotic assistant named Kim-Bot. As the game progresses, you are introduced to enemies who are trying to interfere with the smooth flow of courier activities in outer space. First you encounter a former childhood acquaintance who has embraced the pirating way of life – hopefully you are able to successfully fend him off this time, but you know he’ll be back for more, because pirates don’t like to admit defeat, and he’s going to bring friends.
You will also need to out-maneuver The Enemy – nasty little spaceships that will cause your ship to blow up on impact. Some puzzles require that you alter your own course, while others require altering that of The Enemy and still others require a combined solution. As the levels get progressively harder and you run into little obstacles like cannons, you will be thankful that there is no instant death time-limit nor a limit on the number of lives you have. Some puzzles will take a lot of hit and miss (remember, in the case of The Enemy, miss is a good thing) in order to figure out their solutions. I’ve also discovered that even though some puzzles seem really complicated, the solution is usually very, very simple – these will often bring on a *facepalm* moment when you realize how simple that particular puzzle really was. Well you might not, but I have.
The first 30 levels of the game are available for free, but you can unlock a further 75 levels with a $2.99 USD in-app purchase, and I recommend unlocking the additional levels if you are a puzzle addict, because they will challenge you right to the end. Upgrading to the full version also means you will receive all future game updates and any new puzzles the studio creates. On the start screen you will also see that the studio is planning on giving players the ability to build their own levels with an in-game level builder, as well as bonus levels.
Galaxy Express is compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch (it works well on my 2nd gen model) and the iPad, providing you are running iOS 4.1 or newer. The graphics are of good quality, and you do have the option of skipping the 2D retro-styled story screens, not that I would recommend this as several of them contain important information on how to combat the enemies. If you do need to look for a tutorial, all of those levels are marked with a “T” which makes things a tad easier as they explain the new game mechanics you will encounter.
The audio and soundtrack for the game are of good quality and not the least bit irritating. That said, you do not need the sound enabled to play the game, and while Galaxy Express has been configured for low battery usage, being able to turn off the audio eases battery use just a little bit more. The controls for the game are very easy to understand and use. You can also set the speed with which your ship will move through the puzzle – just remember that all of The Enemy ships, cannonballs and other interferences will move at the same speed as you – so other than navigating the puzzle faster, there isn’t really any advantage.
The developers have also added the ability to share puzzle solutions via email, Facebook and Twitter, and you can also ask for help via this same method if you’re really, really stuck. I personally haven’t used these options for sharing or asking for help, but they are nice additional features for the game. There is no scoring system, so you are not competing for ownership of a leaderboard, however if you’re playing against friends, you can always see who can solve the puzzle first simply by solving, sharing the solution and see who posted it first. The only challenge feature I’d like to see added is a time-keeper – not to penalize a player for not solving a puzzle in time, but to keep track of how quickly the player can solve the puzzle, thereby opening the challenge of beating one’s personal times. That said, even if you’ve solved the puzzles, Galaxy Express does have a good replayability factor.
Overall, I give Galaxy Express a 9.5 out of 10 – if there had been a personal timekeeper and if the toolbar were movable (for those of us who are left-handed), it would have earned a full 10 – although these two features are not game-breakers for me. I can still easily access the toolbar for what I need to do in order to play the game, it’s a personal preference.