Serenity, inner peace and connectedness to the world’s spirit would all vanish in a minute if a Buddhist monk had to conquer a couple of lava levels in Gears. This game is frustration, high intensity focus and a whole lot of daring moves. I don’t care about the story, because if there was one it has faded from memory. In Gears you roll a marble ball from start to finish like so many other ball and marble rolling games have done before it (Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball). What sets it apart from the others is the level design, the insane challenge and the organic uneven surfaces you have to traverse.
There are two control methods available in the game, swipe or tilt. I usually prefer touch controls, and in the case of Gears even more (unlike Nigel in his preview). That is because the game gets insane after the first world has been cleared. I managed quite well using tilt for the first nine levels where most surfaces were quite even. Moving across moving gears using the accelerometer is both rewarding, and fun. Moving down an uneven slope, or bouncing down a long staircase proved too much for me., and I still claim that not even a Buddhist monk could keep his cool down that set of stairs. The fact that the tilt controls are highly responsive doesn’t help when the ball bounces off uneven surfaces. Using gentle swipes I managed much better during these levels, and as the challenge kept increasing with trampolines, timed doors and whatnot I was having a hard time keeping up.
There are four different levels of difficulty. Easy is essentially the same as Normal without any time limits. The normal difficulty adds a time limit, and the hard difficulty makes the time available even slimmer. The fact that it is still hard to cross the levels on easy is a testament to the brutal level design. Still, you do get unlimited lives. However, move on to brutal and you only get one single life. This is where you separate the ninjas from the herd.
What makes the game really interesting is the level design that has a great depth to it. You generally start up on a high point, and travel downwards by jumping, falling and going down pipes. At times you also get to travel upwards using trampolines or elevators in the form of moving gears. Portals, door openers and breakable boxes are also part of the level design. What I miss is that there are no enemies to be seen, and instead the levels themselves kill you over and over again.
There are three worlds in the game with nine levels each. It might not sound like much, and playing through the first world it felt like I would finish the entire game in a couple of hours. But even with a generous amount of checkpoints, unlimited lives and no time limits the game will haunt my dreams for two more weeks if I manage to complete a level each day. If you manage to complete all levels, and get all the pickups in one sitting you will still have had hours of fun at a measly buck.
The presentation in Gears is excellent with well drawn backgrounds and level elements. The ball moves in a realistic manner. There are three different graphical quality settings: optimized for older devices, normal for 3GS and up, and finally high for iPad 2 and iPhone 5. For my iPhone 4 the game looks great playing on normal. The lighting effects, and steam from pipes look awesome. However the controls aren’t as responsive, and to actually play the game I prefer the lower setting optimized for older devices. One thing that did annoy me slightly is the fact that you have to go back to the start screen of the game to change options. I would have liked to be able to quickly switch between control methods depending on the level.
The music during levels is dark ambient, setting a brooding mood to the ball rolling at hand, though with a slightly un-inspired RPG ring to it. The sound effects are good though, with some cool steampunk inspired sounds.
Gears is not what I expected from Crescent Moon at all after Ravensword and Aralon. Gears might do for Crescent Moon what Flight Control did for Firemint. The small game that grows to become the huge hit in between the major releases. If you want a true challenge you can’t go wrong with Gears. Two working controls methods, excellent graphics and audio along with Game Center integration for leaderboards equal a great quality release. Now if I can only find a Buddhist monk to try the game.
Seller: Crescent Moon