Gaming has evolved over the years, but every once in a while we get a game that brings back the fun and frustration of classic games giving us a true challenge without the gloss, Gear Gauntlet promises to do exactly that.
There’s no story, no deep underlying experience system and no enemies to worry about. When you first start up the game, you’ll head into the area known as the Loki tree and begin working through the side-scrolling levels, there’s 40 levels in total spread across 4 areas.
Using the left analogue stick you’ll take control of a gear, It’s anybody’s guess why the developers went for a gear, as this could easily have been a giant chicken holding 4 coloured flags, but a gear is a gear so let’s roll with it. In true retro fashion the screen moves along automatically, but do’t expect any Super Mario simplicity, within a few minutes you’ll realise the pace is frantic and unforgiving.
After a handful of death’s you’ll start to scrape through a few levels, usually with a bottom of the barrel ‘F’ rank which is some way off the highest S or A ranks. The best I could muster during my initial playthrough was a ‘B’ but your given a leaderboard after each level which keeps it competitive while also letting you know you could have done a lot worse.
Soon enough you’ll come across coloured blocks, these correspond to the colours of the pad, so green for ‘A’. yellow for ‘Y’ and so on. By holding the correct colour your gear will break through the block allowing you to progress so this soon adds a Rhythm-Action scope without the Rhythm,
Obviously there is music playing along and for a indie release it’s certainly not bad at all, with the concentration required during gameplay the music remains discreet enough to prevent distraction, but when I left the game on the menu while working on my computer, the music was playing along for an hour meaning it can’t be bad when most menu-screen music get’s muted within ten minutes.
Throughout the game there’s the expected sound effects as you burst through a block, and while there’s sound effects in place, nothing really hits the heights of being memorable which is also a good thing as nothing stood out as being out of place or annoying,
Graphically things are somewhat subdued, there’s intentionally not too much detail, to prevent distractions and that does leave it feeling a little muted at times although the backgrounds are nicely detailed, there’s plenty of colours and obstacles, and things move along at such a pace you barely get chance to take in the often blissful surroundings.
Occasionally you’ll misjudge a space, hold yourself up and try to blame the graphics, but the truth is you messed up, and that’s one statement you need to come to terms with. Regardless of whether you missed a direction press, misjudged a gap or caught the wrong coloured button, you will mess up and you’ll have nobody to blame except yourself.
So Gear Gauntlet punishes you when you make a mistake, traversing through a level you might be able to clip the edges a few times, but you’ll be right on the edge of the screen and requiring a perfect run to make up ground replaying a level numerous times brings back the repetitive frustration which started with games of the 80’s and it’s a real pleasure to have something that’s so simple at it’s core but also so well made.
Within each level you’ll find numerous routes, packed with obstacles which are usually best avoided completely, you’ll have to move quickly to grab as many coins as possible, these are coloured bronze, silver and gold and combine to give you the final score.
It’s often easy to ignore these all together to try and get past a level your stuck on, but trying to keep a standard of picking up what you can, might mean a few extra failures, but those re-runs will often reward you with a alternate route you didn’t use previously which gives greater rewards or even leads to the hidden cog.
Spread across the 40 levels you’ll find a secret cog in each level, but most gamers won’t worry about collecting these straight away, due to the fast, frustrating and unforgiving pace, stumbling through the levels quickly might only take you an evening or so, which leaves reliance on chasing leaderboards and that perfect run to really make the most out of the game.