Every once in a while, you’ll come across a completely original title that was made specifically for the Xbox Live Arcade. Gastronaut Studios managed to meet this goal with the 2D Brawler Small Arms, and it seems they’ve succeeded again with Gel:Set & Match (also known as Gel).
If you’re a fan of puzzle games, I’d seriously consider checking out what Gel has to offer.
Gel: Set & Match’s gameplay feels a lot like Bomberman, but instead of just dropping bombs, you’ll be tossing, kicking, passing, throwing, and matching gels together. You see, there are 4 different color “gel blocks”, and your job is to match them into four of a kind sets, using any means necessary.
This is where Gel really shines: you can simply make four of a kind by dropping or kicking blocks near each other, or, you can throw a gel past a set of 3, and since they technically are in “contact” with each other, it will match. After you create a match of 4 or more blocks, they’ll “jiggle” for about 5 seconds, allowing you to create “chains” by throwing more into the mix.
The “throw and chain” system allow for some creative, and hectic gameplay, especially during the game’s versus modes. Sometimes you’ll be throwing a gel across the map, only to have your opponent steal your entire pile and claim it as his own. You can also squish opponents by throwing blocks at them, or tossing the occasional bomb that appears.
As you can clearly see, the stars of Gel are the cute looking Aardvark-like creatures found in these screenshots. They talk in their own language (which shows up as English in the game’s subtitles), and have their own distinct style. “The Coach” will take you under his wing as soon as the game starts, and teach you how to play the game in a very vivid tutorial sequence.
You’ll start to quickly notice that other than The Coach, there are random creatures cheering you on in each level, and their appearance is always randomly generated. Every single creature looks entirely different, and could be wearing anything from a pirate outfit to a space ranger get-up. The extremely variable amount of creatures really shows the effort the developers put in to create an immersive, unique world. I immediately connected with these creatures like they were the stars of a new Saturday morning cartoon. These guys just have so much character: you can even make them dance with the right analog stick for extra jollies.
In addition to featuring friendly characters, the game is also extremely accessible. Like all games should strive to do, the controls are easy to learn, and hard to master. Younger gamers who haven’t played very many puzzle games will have an easy time picking it up, but will have to practice before facing the later challenges, and Veterans will find that there is a lot to learn.
When you boot up the game, you’ll have the option to play puzzle mode, adventure Mode, or versus. Both puzzle and adventure can be played cooperatively with another person, and the versus mode is for up to four players, both locally or online. Puzzle Mode is incredibly fun, and features stand-alone riddles for you to solve. You can solve them in as many moves as you want, but if you want an “A” ranking, each map has their own maximum move limit (also known as a par). If you successfully rank “A” in each level set, you’ll earn a bonus puzzle. No matter how many moves you take though, every time you beat a level you earn stars (the currency used to buy clothes).
Adventure Mode is what most people will try first. One of your Aardvark friends will commandeer a tank that will slowly move to the right, and cause the screen to crawl, much like certain levels in a standard platformer. Your job is to clear the way, and prevent the tank from hitting any blocks on the way to the finish line. Luckily, if you want an increased challenge, you can hold the right button, which will cause the tank, and screen, to move faster. While there are some hectic moments in later levels, as a general rule, this mode is pretty easy, and you’ll finish it in a few hours. Once you finish each world’s levels, you’ll unlock an infinite mode, where you can try to get as far as you can while earning costume money along the way.
Versus mode doesn’t just feature a “battle mode”: it offers a points race battle, bomb volleyball, and an emblem mode. Points race has you competing against others for the highest score on the same map, with constantly changing rules (for example, “greens count as negative points). This is probably the most hectic mode of all, considering a lot of successful strategies hinge off of stealing blocks from others. Volleyball mode gives you three lives each, and is an all out bomb fest with some puzzle elements. Emblem mode requires the most concentration and skill, due to the fact that each gel is marked with a certain card suit. Every player has an assigned suit that they have to match, and every color is capable of holding any suit, so you have to think before you match!
The crux Gel’s longevity lies with its multiplayer: if you have friends to game with, or you can find people online, this one will last you a while due to the variation in the three modes. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot in its single player experience. Once you finish solo puzzle mode, you’ll have a handful of levels to do in adventure mode, and that’s really about it. Unless you enjoy playing the 4 endless levels the main quest offers over and over; without a buddy, you’ll probably run out of things to do in a few days. Gel does offer a neat costume gallery where you can exchange stars earned in-game for new duds and accessories, but this won’t appeal to many gamers who aren’t fond of collectibles.
800 Microsoft Points might be a bit steep for someone who doesn’t normally enjoy puzzle games, but in my opinion, this game is a sleeper hit for all puzzle fans. It’s fast, it’s mind-blowingly good looking, and the three versus modes it offers are different enough to keep you and your buddies satisfied for a long while.
Gel looks exactly how an original Arcade game should. Its vibrant color scheme and original character designs are phenomenal.
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While the puzzles themselves could be more challenging, the gameplay is surprisingly deep, considering how easy it is to pick up the controls. Once you become skilled at whipping blocks around, versus matches are incredibly hectic.
The mushy sounds of the gel blocks and the cute noises from the critters aren’t special, but they fit the game quite well.
There are a decent amount of puzzle maps playable with both single player and coop, in addition to story mode and versus play. Gel does not make the same mistake many Arcade games do, and actually includes both local and online play for up to four players. The Single player campaign’s length is a bit lacking; though, if you’re into collecting, you can buy new clothes and accessories for your character.
Gel is a truly unique Arcade game, that looks and plays like a dream. I wish it had lengthier single player options, but there is promise of DLC. If you or your friends enjoy Bomberman, or puzzle games in general, you should really check this out.