July 26, 2011, at 07:46 PM

Mini Review: Gear Works

I’m a sucker for puzzle games, but the genre’s not well-populated on the SMS (apart from Korean MSX conversions). The Game Gear is better suited to the genre so there are more to be found. Gear Works did the rounds on home computers and some consoles back in 1993. What we have here seems to be a conversion from the Game Boy, but is it as interesting as you might hope?

The mechanics are that there are three sizes of gear (cogwheel) and an irregularly shaped grid of regularly spaced “pins” to which they can be attached. (It’d make more sense if they were holes, as they do not impede the turning of gears attached to nearby “pins”.) There are some red gears on-screen, at least one of which is turning. Your task is to place additional gears such that all of the red gears turn (in any direction).

Complications are: random(ish) gears to place, gears which can only turn one way, an “enemy” which removes pins, a timer, and (of course) your own incompetence in meshing three gears together.

Graphics

The graphics are not bad, but a bit more on the programmer side than the artist side. They’re broadly functional - you can see which way they’re turning, which is key. The various stages have some variety of graphics and animations, which is nice. The enemy sprites are reasonably characterful. The rest, though... seems like lazy Game Boy conversions, particularly the stage start and end graphics.

Sound

Cheerful but unmemorable bleeps and bloops.

Longevity

The game itself has plenty of stages and a (mostly) good difficulty curve - there’s about 4 hours of gameplay in there if you don’t need to repeat levels. The password system is useful for play on a real system, as it’d be hugely frustrating otherwise. I’m not convinced of the replay value, though - once you’ve solved a level, why would you want to repeat it?

Plot

Twelve monuments of the world are being converted into clocks. You’re placing the gears to make the clocks work. (No, really.)

Fun

It’s interesting at first, but the difficulty curve is a little spiky. The number of gear combinations is actually quite small, so there isn’t as much variety as you might hope - it becomes a matter of applying the same few patterns of gears to fit the level. In later levels, the available pins are often deliberately sparse, so the pin-removing enemy can make it impossible to complete a level, which is frustrating. Additionally, the random gear sequence can often make a level impossible to complete - perhaps requiring you to repeat several previous levels. The sequence seems to lack any entropy inputs - you get the same gears every time from the same savestate - which means you can’t use emulator savestates to avoid losing lives, and it happens enough that you’ll have to lose all your lives at some point. That’s not fun.

Final bug: at some point near the end of the game, I came across glitches where the game would fail to place a gear, stop all rotation and disallow any more gear placement. In the end I found I had to reset the game completely and use a password to continue from the start of the level in order to get it back to a “clean” state. If this happens in the real game, it must be very irritating - it seems there are multiple factors that mean you can’t play through the game in one go.

One of the power-ups in the game is oil, which you can never use. It turns out the second, smaller brown enemy is supposed to “rust” the gears and require oil to repair them. Either due to emulator inaccuracies, extreme luck, a glitch in the game, or incomplete porting, this never happens. So the game is missing an important mechanic. Other minor aspects seem to have been omitted from the port. It seems like it’s a bit half-assed...

Innovation

The idea seems pretty original - I can’t think of any other games using the same mechanic, apart from a few Incredible Machine type physics games which may use gears and turning directions as a minor feature. As a port, though, it’s entirely unoriginal...

Conclusion

It’s exactly what you expect, nothing more, perhaps less. If you like this sort of thing (non-twitch puzzle games, that is), it’s not a bad way to waste hours of your life.


Mini Review Ratings