Remember Marble Madness? You may have subconsciously blocked out the painful memories the frustratingly difficult and finicky game can bring. Unless, of course, you beat it. In which case your life has already peaked — that was probably the greatest achievement you’ll ever experience, so it’s all downhill from here.
If you’d like to spend your remaining years enduring similar ball-rolling-based sadism, you’re in luck. Crescent Studios has brought us Gears, a game about rolling a sphere through ludicrous concoctions of gears, pipes, ramps, moving platforms, and such.
Much like Marble Madness before it, Gears is hard. Mercilessly hard. It makes The Wire‘s Marlo Stanfield look like a puppy in comparison. As someone who writes about games for a living, I like to think my skills are relatively honed at this sort of thing, but I found completing Gears on easy difficulty a Herculean task.
Bump it up to normal and you’re burdened with a time limit. Hard makes said limit even harsher. And “brutal” is like hard, but with one life. Given that besting easy consisted of hundred of deaths per level later on, I can only imagine the Bob Flanagan-like level of masochism required for those tougher modes.
The game offers two methods of control; tilting and swiping, though the former lacks precision. The game acknowledges this by offering a score bonus for using it, but this comes off as an apology for a broken mechanic. Swiping works much better, though I could only perform adequately with the sensitivity turned down.
Gears’ sweeping 3D graphics and colorful steampunk aesthetic are gorgeous, but it can sometimes be difficult to gauge depth. Often my orb would be on an incline, but I wouldn’t notice until it would slip off a ledge. There’s also no option to zoom out, so you’ll occasionally rush blindly into danger.
Navigation can be tricky due to confusing level design. On easy it’s not much of an issue and I could appreciate the leisurely exploration, but playing on any other difficulty would result in lots of trial and error while sussing out which way to go when the clock’s a-ticking. It’s also frustrating to fall to an earlier part of a level and accidentally set off a checkpoint, overwriting your progress.
Gears will undoubtedly have a niche audience, though for the rest of us mere mortals, it feels like being stuck at home babysitting Super Meat Boy’s rounder, more obnoxious cousin.
The bottom line. Gears is pretty to look at and controls well, but is so fiendishly difficult that many will give up after its first set of levels. Those up for the challenge may find more to appreciate.
Crescent Moon Games
iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, third- or fourth-gen iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 4.0 or later
It’s pretty, controls fairly well, and its labyrinthine levels are impressive (if at odds with its time limit). Universal for iPhone and iPad.
Extraordinary difficulty can lead to frustration. Camera is often zoomed in too much, so depth can be unclear. Tilt controls are finicky.