Gyromancer (Review)

“PopCap and and Square Enix team up to create the successor to Bejeweled.”

Successor to Bejeweled, you say? Very much so. Gyromancer is collaboration between PopCap Games and Square Enix, and is admittedly a fairly unique experience, combining the successful puzzle formula of Bejeweled with interesting RPG mechanics. Can PopCap’s Bejeweled formula really mesh well with the RPG obsessed Square Enix? Well, I’ll tell you.

The game opens in the typical epic and flashy manner that all Square Enix RPGs do, though this really is a puzzle game at heart. This can easily be forgotten when you click the new game option and are immediately thrust into a story starring a young mage named Rivel who sets out to capture a man named Quraist Kingsley after he assassinates a member of the royal family.

After you are treated to a few story sequences, you get to play through a tutorial level with Rivel. Each level is essentially a series of paths on the screen which lead to treasure chests, monsters, and other such things. The player moves Rivel by clicking along the dotted path, telling the hero where to go. Upon encountering a monster, the game transitions to the battle screen which looks like a cross between Bejeweled and Puzzle Quest. Like in Bejeweled Twist, the player can only move blocks by rotating them in a clockwise direction. The objective is still to make lines of four identical blocks, which increases your attack gauge. By filling up your attack gauge, you can unleash damaging attacks upon your opponent, which depletes their hit points. You will actually conduct these “battles” with self-selected monsters which each have an affinity towards certain coloured blocks. For example, the firebreathing wyrm monster that you can use likes red blocks. If you destroy more red blocks in your combinations, your gauge bars will fill up faster, which puts a special gem into the playing field which, when destroyed, unleashes the attacks specific to whatever monster you are using.

The opponent has their own attacks as well. Each time the player rotates a group of blocks, the opponent’s own gauge bars will fill up slightly. When their bars are full, their own special gems will be deployed. If the player does not destroy these within a set number of turns, then they will be attacked and lose their own hit points. Obviously the point of each “battle” is to create as many beneficial combinations as possible so that you can attack the enemy frequently, thus overpowering them and defeating them.

You will want to win each battle quickly, since there are many monsters in each stage. Luckily, you are allowed to enter each stage with three monsters. If one perishes, it simply has to sit out for the rest of the stage. If you lose all three monsters, then you are removed from the stage after incurring a slight penalty and are then free to try again. Each stage typically ends with a boss fight, followed by a cutscene which progresses the story which, unfortunately, isn’t very gripping or exciting.

The artwork in the game is quite nice to look at, and I am under the impression that Square Enix probably handled most of the artwork. While the stages never look terribly interesting, battle sequences are the opposite. Monster portraits look spectacular and very threatening, and the animations caused by gems being swapped and special attacks being performed are quite good too. Character artwork is also very nice looking and is certainly above average.

The game’s music was written by Tsuyoshi Sekito, who has been involved in several Square-Enix games over the years. The music is actually very good, and sounds like it came straight out of a console RPG from Japan. Many of the tracks sound like they drew inspiration from games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, or perhaps Final Fantasy XII. Since the composer has worked on the Final Fantasy series, this isn’t terribly surprising. Overall, it makes for a wonderful soundtrack to listen to while playing what is essentially a puzzle game on steroids.

Fans of Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest, or Square-Enix games should find an ample amount to enjoy in this game, as it masterfully combines two genres, resulting in a very fun and interesting collaboration project. For a much cheaper price than commercial games, you can’t go wrong.

Final Score

8.4/10

Peggle Series (Review)

“For fans of Breakout, Pinball and Puzzle Bobble, this is as good as it gets.”

In 2007, PopCap released a little puzzle game that borrowed gameplay elements from several other popular games. This game would come to be known as Peggle, and would be ported to various consoles over time and, in 2008, spawned a sequel called Peggle Nights.

Rather than just reviewing the original Peggle or the sequel, or even any specific version, I’m reviewing every Peggle game instead because, face it, there are very few differences between any of them. Peggle Nights barely even changed from the first game, but that’s not really a bad thing.

So, what is this “Peggle” all about? Well, it’s all about aiming a ball 180 degrees (half a circle) and firing it at coloured pegs. It sounds really simplistic, and it usually is. Simplicity does not equal easy, however.

There are two pegs, blue and orange. Blue pegs are more plentiful and increase your score exponentially. Orange pegs are not as plentiful, and this is because in order to clear a level, you have to shoot and destroy every orange peg.

There are two additional “special” pegs as well. The yellow pegs grant you special abilities and the purple pegs increases the points you will receive for hitting every other peg on the same shot.

Regarding special abilities, what you can use depends on the “animal helper” that you have. If you are playing adventure mode, then you are assigned a different one every ten levels, but if you are playing any other game mode than you can manually choose who to use. These animal chracters don’t serve a lot of purpose other than to give you a different looking avatar at the top of the screen and to grant you different power ups. The unicorn’s special will grant you super precise aiming while the dragon’s special replaces your regular ball with a fireball which demolishes every peg in it’s path.

Levels start out easy, but after clearing about twenty or thirty, the difficulty will jump up significantly. Peggle never gets so hard that you’ll have any rage quits or anything, but it can be difficult enough to challenge you a great deal and make you complain that your shot “shouldn’t have gone there” or “should have hit that peg” and so forth.

That reminds me of the physics. They are quite unpredictable in Peggle, even more than you’ll find in any Pinball game. In order to plot where the ball will go, you will have to stare long and hard at the screen. This isn’t very fun and, like most people, you’ll probably just take whatever shots look best without analyzing the trajectory of the ball too much.

Peggle really shines in multiplayer modes, which I think may only be in the console versions. Essentially, the person who ends up with a higher score will win the level. This means that the person who destroys all orange pegs won’t necessarily be the winner. A little bit of strategy is involved, and it’s good fun.

As I said in the header, anyone who likes Breakout, Pinball, or Puzzle Bobble should enjoy Peggle quite a lot. This game will appeal to many others though, considering the fact that it is a PopCap game. Go over to their website and download a free demo of whatever Peggle game you happen across first if you have never done so. Peggle is quite fun and should be enjoyable to almost everybody.

Final Score

7.9/10

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

It looks like a new Tomb Raider game is in the works, though “Tomb Raider” has been dropped from title and has simply been replaced with Lara Croft’s name. Even checking out what the game is all about, it’s not hard to see why the naming of this installment is different.

What sets this game apart from Lara’s previous adventures is the nature of the game itself. This is no longer a third person adventure game. Guardian of Light is, instead, an isometric 3D platformer/puzzle game that relies heavily on co-op multiplayer. Now that’s certainly a different approach to Tomb Raider!

In this game, Lara is off looking for a “Mirror of Smoke” which is apparently stolen by some bad guy. The Mirror’s guardian, Totec, must work together to get the Mirror back. This is where the title comes, as Totec is the Guardian of Light in the name.

The game will apparently play like an arcade adventure game. My immediate impression is that the game probably played like a Diablo style game, but instead I believe it to be closer to the classic Prince of Persia titles. The arcade aspect comes from having a score that will increase as you defeat opponents and find collectables.

I have never been a huge Tomb Raider fan, but this looks wildly different from Lara’s previous adventures and just may be more mainstream. Overall, it looks like an interesting game which will be available via digital download. If the price is reasonable, I will probably give the game a try. To conclude this little article, here’s a trailer.

Return to May 2010 Articles

Brain Challenge (Review)

“Exercising your brain has never been this much fun.”

When I wanted to put a decent game on my BlackBerry Bold 9700 a few months back, I wasn’t sure what to go with. I had tried Mega Man 3, but found the controls to be absolutely terrible. This ruled out platformers. I thought for a while about what would work on a keypad based mobile phone. The answer was Brain Challenge.

Brain Challenge consists of practice modes and daily IQ/stress tests that determine how much of your brain you’re using, or how stressed you may be. I don’t consider these tests to be entirely accurate, but it’s fun trying to improve your score day after day.

The tests present you with games that force you to use a wide variety of skills, such as memory, timed reflexes, and mathematics. Some of the games are quite fun, such as the one that makes you select which path a frog will traverse and which point he will end up at. Others are not so fun to me, like the one that has you trying to press a button on your phone the very second that a black outline aligns itself with a shape’s outer perimeter.

The better you do at the games, the harder they will be next time you play them. Over time, I recognized a very significant jump in the difficulty of the memory based games, which the game tells me I am best at.

The controls are great on the BlackBerry Bold. Using the trackball is a real joy, as it is more responsive than any video game controller. I have very rarely made mistakes while playing any of the games in Brain Challenge, though I have been slow to input my answers a few times because the BlackBerry trackball can in fact be very sensitive, but this is not the game’s fault.

Sound is actually quite annoying in Brain Challenge, and I always find myself turning it off to prevent myself from getting a headache. It does sound quite bad, especially the main menu music which I fear not even the composer of it may love.

While it isn’t going to win any awards, Brain Challenge is a great puzzle game to play on the go or when you have a few minutes to kill, and is probably my favourite game that I have on my BlackBerry, beating out The Sims 3 and Guitar Hero 5 Mobile by a very large margin. If puzzle games are your thing and you have a BlackBerry, give this one a shot.

Final Score

7/10