Although it's effectively a match three game, a genre that seems to have found its new spiritual home on the DS, Chainz Galaxy seems to have bigger ideas for itself. Rather than just sticking to the gameplay, and stringing together a collection levels, there's a story of sorts trying to tie everything together - and it's a little bit weird. Because rather than just providing a handy subject for a match three game together, the chains (or chainz *shudder*) you're linking are part of something much deeper. In fact, you're creating a world, from scratch.
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You see, on a planet, somewhere far away, there's a population of small, miniature Jesuses, who seem to be getting rather bored. In fact, with almost literally nothing for them to do (after all, how long could you last on a lump of rock before starting to tear your beard out), the Jesuses are starting to rather down about their lot in life. I mean, where are all the mod cons, or even the things that make a planet a planet? The trees, the animals, the sun, the sky, and, er, the discos? That's where you come in. Seemingly treating the chains(z) as some sort of space lasso, the interstellar Jesuses use their galactic chainz to rope in any nearby objects, in the hope of eventually building a thriving metropolis. Or something.
Luckily, the rest of Chainz Galaxy makes a lot more sense than the somewhat insane plot. Essentially a match three game, Chainz Galaxy puts an interesting twist on things by asking you to rotate segments of chains, rather than moving them around. The whole idea here is fairly simple - by rotating the various chain segments, it's up to you to make a link of three or more of the same colour. So far, so standard - but Chainz Galaxy has various ways of livening things up. One of the most basic, yet most useful additions is the circular, chunky chain segments, which effectively form a junction, letting you build your chain off in several directions, or even link several chains together. Turning a three chain link into ten or more is easily possible if you play your cards right - and you'll get plenty of points for your efforts.
Another rather useful addition is the rainbow chain, which not only attaches to chains of any colour, but also can be used to join differently coloured chains together. Get a circular, chunky chain that's also rainbow, and you'll be lucky if you don't end up linking half the grid together in the resulting explosion.
The goal here, as with most match three games, is to simply keep making matches, until you've amassed a certain amount of points, represented by a bar/chain on right hand side of the screen, which fills up as you progress. However, when you first start each level, several of these segments will be locked off by padlocks, which you'll have to remove in order to complete it. Rather than having to find a key, however, all you'll have to do here is to make matches using chains that have a random golden trinket on - in the screenshot featured here, it's a ring, although it could be a fish, a horseshoe, or one of any number of things you wouldn't usually associate with unlocking locks. Make the match, release the trinket, unlock the lock, and you'll be on your way to finishing the level.
And with more than 80 levels to play through, the chances are this is a game that'll keep you going for a while - even if it does have a rather hash penalty system. You see, for all it gets right, Chainz Galaxy's hampered by a rather awkward lives system, which actually seems to end up punishing you for the game's own mistakes. On most other games, running out of potential moves isn't a cause for concern - a quick automatic scramble of the grid, and you're back on your way like nothing ever happened. But in Chainz Galaxy, each scramble uses one of your lives, whether you've chosen to use one for yourself because you can't see any more moves, or whether the computer decides it has to scramble because there are none left. Seeing as you have no control over what colour chains are going to drop in where to replace the ones you've cleared, this doesn't exactly seem very fair - especially in some of the later levels, when you're juggling three or more colours.
In some levels, the game's poor placement of chains can lead to it basically draining your lives - and should you get a game over, you'll be sent back to the start not of the level that you were on, but the entire section of levels you were playing (the levels are divided into 7 sets of 7 or 8 each - run out of lives on the penultimate, or ultimate level, and it's back to square one). In fact, this was such a problem that our tester found she couldn't get past the fourth set of levels in the game, because she kept getting a game over, and wasn't sure why. Some indication of what's happening would be nice - or even better, it could just not punish you for the game's mistakes.
On the plus side, though, Chainz Galaxy has several modes to explore outside the main "Story", although unfortunately, most do have to be unlocked by playing through the main game. Arcade mode (unlocked by clearing stage one) is a fairly standard fare, which asks you to fill the progress bar against a timer, with the help of some added time bonus power-ups, but the other two modes on offer are far more inventive. Strategy mode (unlocked by finishing stage four) is basically a survival mode, as it adds an extra piece to the grid every time you rotate a chain, and when the grid fills up, it's game over, while puzzle mode (unlocked by finishing stage seven) takes things even further, and gives you a series of levels that can only be solved by making the matches in a certain order, to remove every piece from the grid. Even some of the early ones are proper brainteasers.
In all, though, with an interesting take on the match three genre, and a varied collection of modes, Chainz Galaxy has a lot going for it - if you can get past the awkward, and somewhat unfair lives system, that tends to punish you for the game's mistakes. With the game now available (at the time of writing) for £7.99 from Amazon, if you're looking for a new match three game, or just a great mother's day present, this could be well worth a look.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS