Over the course of countless control stick spasms which inevitably caused loss of life, from deep groans of annoyance to high pitched wails of frustration, Gear Gauntlet took me by my overly shaky hand and threw me straight in.
Lacking a story, the player controls a gear which they have to guide through a series of 2D side-scrolling obstacle courses. Simplicity in itself. You don't get much more basic that that. On the other hand, in execution Gear Gauntlet is so frustrating, challenging, and downright face-punchingly difficult.
Disclosure: This review was conducted on Xbox One using a code provided by Drop Dead Interactive.
Easing you in
Requiring an almost uncommon degree of concentration, Gear Gauntlet may look easy but in reality, it's more aggressive than a dog that hasn't eaten in three days. But that's exactly what Gear Gauntlet's developers — Drop Dead Interactive — intended.
The beginning levels go easy on you. Set against a backdrop of gentle green trees, you could be forgiven for being lulled into a false sense of security. Eventually, Gear Gauntlet will turn into a brutal dictator, as though setting you on fire for your most innocuous mistakes.
Barrelling through this legitimate gauntlet of colored hazards which block your way, you need to avoid the fiendishly placed spinning saws, collect speed boosts, and hit warp points to travel back to areas previously unlocked to make it to the end, all preferably in one flawless go. I'm not sure if someone should or shouldn't have skin on their teeth, but I made it through by this infinitesimally small margin on more than one occasion.
With there being different paths to choose from, many of them are narrow and easily missed. It may be me, but it seemed as though there is a 'speed run' route, a path that doesn't deviate much toward the end; it's somewhat less hazardous than other paths, filled with lower value score tokens, but a much more direct route to the goal. However, taking this easier way out means you may not get a decent score, and you most certainly won't find the rare gear that is hidden on each level. In fact, with the hidden gears and the way the game looks and plays, you can't help but feel you're playing a warped, alternate version of Sonic The Hedgehog, only where Dr Eggman/Robotnik was the victor.
Gear up or go home
In Gear Gauntlet, the screen chases you as you wind through the game's obstacle-laden levels. Controlling the gear by pressing on the up and down axis on the joystick, progression can be made (and death avoided) by using the colored ABXY buttons to destroy the corresponding color-coded hazards in your way. This is where heaps of concentration is helpful.
Failing to select the correct color button as you connect with the corresponding hazards will block your way on normal difficulty, causing the screen to catch and kill you. On the higher difficulties, failing to select the correct color will kill you instantly. Cue various, mournful whale noises.
The number of blocks can vary from anything up to 5 of a single color, to single alternating blocks with a scoring token either side, followed by even more hazards. I hope you're not color-blind, because even as an 'ably-eyed' person, it tripped me up more times than I could count.
It's a stressful experience, but never unpleasantly so. Reaching out to developers Drop Dead Interactive on Twitter, I asked them if they have any words of wisdom for new players.
"Don't go for the best score/time the first time you try a level. Get used to the simple controls, learn the level, then attack the leaderboard."
Of course, mother knows best, and their method is a pretty trusty one you can use to secure your place on the leaderboard. Currently, the rankings are dominated by the developers, having taken a good dose of their own medicine to smash the score table.
Getting to know each level before you start trying to aim for the top spot means you can scout out where all the deviations to the path lie, where the best route to get the rare gear is, and which routes have warp points for you to go back and score gear collecting pointage. You can tailor your challenge by hitting powerups which change the perspective of the puzzle, rotating the entire map on a ninety-degree angle. You can even change the scroll direction of the screen, making navigation more challenging.
At times, it's difficult not to throw the controller down and walk away red-faced and muttering, but Gear Gauntlet is one game that gets right in under the skin. You want to show it who's boss. Even as you plaintively wail "Nooo!" as you fail again, you'll be pausing for a brief moment to have a quick regroup before starting at the last checkpoint.
The Whale Swan-song
Most often, the main causes of a restart won't be from getting caught by the screen, though it is certainly a very real threat. The bane of your life will be the saws, which can either be stationary but precariously placed close to gears, travel on a set path, or just seemingly fly towards you for no reason other than DIE. It's saws. It's always the saws. Just as you push a little further, you unconsciously acknowledge you've made progress, your adrenaline kicks in and starts to run wild in your body and SAW. Even if you know they're there, and whether they move or not, you try to overcompensate to avoid them and end up hitting another one.
You need a delicate touch to navigate zigzagging rows littered with colored blocks, as getting caught in corners (and panicking) will almost certainly leave you devoured by the screen. You also need to find control of your emotions, as getting excited inevitably results in losing concentration.
Gear Gauntlet is exciting and fun, and it has that addictive punch that will have you determined to restart over again, chasing leaderboard scores. Just writing about it compels me to play, which is why I'm sneaking in quick attempts while I should be working.
Drop Dead Interactive made this game to be hard. Truth be told, there is a superficial drill sergeant feel to a lot of the menu texts. Pausing the game will reward you with a patronising message about wiping your forehead and getting back into the game.
Just writing about it compels me to play, which is why I'm sneaking in quick attempts while I should be working.
Selecting a difficulty will net you a small jibe about keeping things simple if you go for normal, taunting you for thinking you're capable of tackling the game on hard, and applauding your screaming and crying for trying insane mode. Littered with references to pop culture classics such as Game of Thrones and Star Wars, while the game doesn't have a story, it doesn't lack for personality.
Gear Gauntlet is extremely challenging and for this reason, may have limited appeal to wider audience. However, this shouldn't dissuade people from trying. Practise makes perfect, after all.
Many won't find the patience needed to hit the leaderboards, nor will they cope with repeated failures just before they reach the checkpoint due to SAW. But if you have a completionist within you who wants to collect all the rare gears and get all of the S grades, Gear Gauntlet will be a rewarding purchase.
Gear Gauntlet starts as a slow burner, and plays as though it suddenly got doused in gasoline . The first few levels are designed to dip your toes and get you used to the mechanics of the game before it kicks it up a notch. The learning curve comes from layout the of each level, but as you begin to learn the turns and the patterns of the colours and where those bloody SAWS are. You'll start to gain your stride and eventually find yourself hitting those goals (even if you are singing like a frustrated whale when you get there).
- Various depths of replayability in leaderboards and grading.
- Addictive and appealing.
- Will make you sing like various animals while playing.
- It's difficulty may not appeal to many.
- Will make you sound like various animals while playing
If you love a challenge and fancy kicking the developers off of the leaderboards and putting them to shame at their own game, Gear Gauntlet is available now on Xbox One via ID@Xbox for $9.99 in the US and £7.99 in the UK!
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