“Shoot-’em-up mixed with a match-four puzzle game” isn’t a concept I never would have expected to hear before Galacide came along. I can’t think of two genres that, at least on the surface, are further removed from one another, but as it turns out, this is a mash-up that can work surprisingly well. A few teething issues notwithstanding, Galacide makes a good proof of concept for a curious genre fusion.
The basic idea is straightforward: Galacide is a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up, but the path forward is regularly blocked with coloured blocks of space trash (“bits”) that your ship can neither shoot down or fly through. The only way to clear a path forward is by throwing bits of your own into the mix to create a chain long enough to destroy a linked segment of like-coloured bits. Fail to do this, and your ship will get crushed between a solid wall and the never-ending march of the scrolling screen.
Enemies can freely fly past the bits, which is handy, because they’re your main source of match-four ammo. Each slain enemy has a relatively high chance of dropping some coloured debris, so the more enemies you shoot down, the more matches you’ll be able to make and the more screen you’ll be able to clear. Sometimes, they’ll even drop a handy bomb that destroys all bits within a given area, regardless of colour—which comes in handy when you’re in a bind.
Shooting in Galacide works much like any other shoot-’em—enemies fly towards you from the side of the screen, you shoot them down and dodge their bullets—but with a couple of caveats: you can’t pick up debris while firing, and when you’re holding a piece of debris, you can’t shoot your cannons without first launching your stocked bit, since they share the same button (though you can discard a piece of debris if you need to).
This opens the door to the most interesting aspect of Galacide. Typically, in a shmup, you’re going to be shooting 99% of the time, but the match-four element in Galacide forces a more tactical approach to when you hit the trigger and when you don’t. Get careless with your shooting, and you’ll just end up stacking mismatched bits on top of one another and blocking yourself in; play too cautiously, and you’re likely to get overwhelmed by waves of foes or let the particularly trigger-happy ones hang around and pester you with bullets for far longer than they should. Galacide isn’t a bullet hell, so you’re not going to have huge, complicated patterns to deal with, but even a steady stream of potshots can be a pain when you’re trying to navigate a maze of bits and safely pick up the debris you need.
This feeds into a variety of different approaches to puzzle design throughout Galacide. Sometimes, bits are arranged in clear, distinct patterns that lay out a neat path forward so long as you get the right bits of debris, making hunting the necessary colours a focus. Other times, the map just looks like a haphazard splash of different colours, and so it’s more about making whatever patterns you can with whatever debris you manage to pick up. Sometimes it just goes pure shoot-’em-up for a moment, and other times, the bits are a red herring—there’s actually a path hidden among the maze, and chasing bit matches just distracts you from that path and makes you more likely to get stuck.
The match-four game also feeds back into the shmup action, as the main way of powering up your ship. Every destroyed bit has a chance to drop a power-up, with bigger matches carrying the possibility of a bigger haul. The different types of power-ups—health recovery, a burst of speed, or XP that goes towards temporarily levelling up your weapons—correspond to the colours of the bits, so choosing what colour match to make depending on your situation also plays a role.
It’s an interesting mix of different ideas, strategies, and tactics that mostly comes together well, but it’s also hard—and not in the way that shmups typically are. At any given moment, you have two different, sometimes contradictory aims: dodging bullets and shooting enemies, and making bit matches. When you’re focusing on one of those things, it’s easy to momentarily forget the other and wind up eating an easily-avoidable bullet or missing a match that you really needed to make. There’s a feeling to it of trying to pat yourself on the head while rubbing your tummy, and it’s something I still haven’t managed to really wrap my head and reflexes around.
But that’s a challenge that I’m sure some folks will revel in, and for those who want to dial up the heat, there are a few ways to do so. The main campaign mode covers a decent assortment of different levels, with Hard and Extreme difficulties offering especially brutal challenges. There’s also a semi-random endless mode that gets progressively harder, and a Puzzle Play mode offering more curated, puzzle-oriented levels. Four different unlockable ships each come with their own unique quirks and abilities, bringing a bit more variety into the mix.
Galacide is a clever mash-up of two rather discrete genres. Some frustrating moments of split focus notwithstanding, the match-four and shoot-’em-up elements complement each other well, creating a unique set of challenges and fresh approach to shmup action.
Galacide is developed and published by Puny Human. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.