Developer: Square Enix, PopCap / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Mild Fantasy Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15.00
Attending a live music show is a mixed experience. You’ve got the crappy opening band, a dude spilling beer on your back, and That Guy That Dances A Little Too Hard. And yet, when someone asks you how the show was, you say “Oh damn, it was awesome.” Why? Because you’re not there for the openers or the creepy dancing guy – you want to see the main act. Gyromancer, the unexpected collaboration from PopCap and Square Enix, is basically a tweaked Bejeweled with a meaningless story. Yet, the game is still great, because for all the annoyances involved, popping colored jewels is still damn awesome.
Somewhere deep within the earth, a group of scientists with PopCap logos in their backs found the exact series of colors and flashing lights to unlock endorphins in the human brain. This terrible discovery led to inexplicably addicting games like Bejeweled and Peggle, enslaving bored housewife and constant gamer alike. Gyromancer again taps this formula, featuring deceptively simple color-matching gameplay that will put players in catatonic trances for hours.
The game represents combat between two creatures with a grid of gems and the matching thereof. Players rotate a 2×2 section of gems clockwise in order to match three or more gems of the same color. Creating matches raises ability meters that, when filled, create an ability gem. Breaking those gems can unleash attacks, buffs, debuffs, or changes gems on the board. Most matches end by reducing the opponent’s HP to zero, minimizing damage taken by breaking opponent’s ability gems before they activate in the process. A handful of matches require something more esoteric like a certain combo or match amount, but these are so limited in number they don’t have an appreciable effect on play as a whole.
In PopCap fashion, there are a hundred more little facets and details to the game. Gyro chains, cascades, rushes — there are details and permutations enough to give players plenty to think about beyond simply matching colors. Sure, you could get an easy three gem match by rotating here, but that won’t stop you from staring at the board for minutes to find a better move. This all combines to create the trademark experience: simple to learn, hard to master, and plenty of blinky lights to induce a trance in a matter of minutes. Square’s contributions to the game don’t succeed as uniformly, as the characters and story are generic and boring. The game’s dialogue is astoundingly stiff; at one point the main character even said “overlong” in describing a length of time. Luckily all of these segments can be skipped.
Square Enix’s work on the game’s visuals do much more for the game than their uninteresting story. The beautiful 2D artwork of the characters and creatures helps the game’s presentation a great deal, though 95% of the game will be spent staring at colored shapes. Gem-shattering and ability effects are pleasant though not jaw-dropping. Other aspects are utilitarian; menus and the like function without particular merit.
One-button gaming doesn’t give much room for control issues – Gyromancer controls perfectly due to its simplicity. Amusingly enough, most issues came from the Xbox 360 D-pad than the game itself. I’ve twisted the wrong set of gems a handful of times thanks to the finicky thing. The game does feature a noteworthy help system though. Most screens offer an overlay that explains icons, effects, and abilities which helps beginning players a great deal.
Gyromancer’s sound works well with its visuals, complimenting sparkly jewel shatters with pleasing jingles. Conversely, the game’s music is dismissible. Menu and map music are generic lilting melodies while combat features music that’s too up-tempo. Given that the game isn’t time intensive at all (taking extra time to plan a move doesn’t penalize players), slower and moodier music would match the atmosphere. Instead, a Final Fantasy-esque battle theme makes these encounters too rushed and quickly becomes tiresome. The music isn’t bad, just out of place. Gyromancer makes a powerful point for the 360’s ability to stream music from a computer.
Gyromancer offers another refined color matching game. However, if matching colors doesn’t do it for you, not only will you resist PopCap’s inevitable conquest of the planet earth with an army of Bejeweled addicts, but you also won’t care much for Gyromancer. On the other hand, all others will love this game. Not only does it hit the sweet spot in terms of pacing and puzzle complexity, but it also offers ludicrous amounts of play time through earnable badges in every level. Just ignore the pesky opening act of a story.