Get ready for the most epic ball-rolling game available on the App Store because Crescent Moon Games, the developers behind the successful Ravensworld and Aralon, are committed to show they breath other things apart from RPG. These guys took some paladins and ogres to kill the annoying Sega monkeys in Super Monkey Ball and have set a new bar demonstrating they can also play in the casual market.
Gears [iTunes Link] is an unusual physics marble game set in beautiful 3D environments where you conduct a ball through labyrinths from start to end to complete levels. Coming from the kings of RPG genre in iOS devices, the story has been drizzled with an apocalyptic steampunk theme where you are in charge of saving the last human city on Earth... But yes, you still do it driving a ball in a circuit.
I'm not a big fan of the genre ever since I had nightmares with Marble Madness on GameBoy back in the day. That game was difficult! I only got back to it with Edge, but just because it's one of the best games you can get for your iDevice, regardless of the genre.
Following the level system we're used to in most casual games, Gears starts with the odd easy level to introduce its physics and mechanics. The control scheme is set to flicking as default, which works brilliantly. Simply move your finger slowly anywhere on the screen and the ball will follow that direction. A fast swipe will give it a boost and visual feedback will tell you some surfaces aren't flat. I would have imagined Gears would be tilt-based (still an option) but the touch controls convinced me from minute one.
What really sets the game apart from other alternatives is the 3D levels and the fantastic animations included in every corner. The environments really feel like travelling at huge speed inside the innards of a clock, but at a higher scale. You'll run through slopes, jump to rocks, step on moving gears, activate items and much more.
The level design deserves a price on its own because 5 minutes in the game you already want to have a word with the person who designed it. It's that nerve-raking... In a good way! You'll need to deal with incredible jumps, impossible stairs and conveyor belts as part of your journey, only catching some breath when you reach any of the multiple checkpoints.
Let's say it openly: Gears is pretty difficult. You'll soon learn that in the options menu you've been playing on the Normal mode, which has a time limit for every level. The Easy doesn't have any time restriction but will be equally challenging and will take you several attempts until you get there. The good news is that your rolling skills will get refined after several levels and you'll learn how to deal with rough landings after jumps, avoid holes in the gears and to take the correct path to get to the funnel at the end. I've missed very good runs bouncing on the final funnel (which acts just like an exit door) having to go back to my last checkpoint.
I really loved the approach taken in Gears, closer to the top-down view in Super Monkey Ball than other isometric alternatives. The complexity in the level design can only be match with the cool graphics powered by the Unity engine. You can also set the graphic display for the best performance on your device. I noticed some rough textures in secondary areas but nothing too distracting even on older devices.
Crescent Moon Games has set a very high standard for any developer attempting to tackle the genre. It's different from what it's been done so far and shows the skill required to pull this one off. So far Crescent Moon hasn't disappointed with any title and I'm really looking forward to see what they are capable of with upcoming games on the App Store.
Gears is a fantastic entertainment option for any audience and makes current a genre long forgotten by many hardcore players. The game uses all the tricks in the book to make you have a great and possibly stressing time playing Gears, while it also shows off the technical capabilities of your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.