PopCap and Square Enix, two juggernauts of the game development world, joined forces and created Gyromancer. What could possibly go wrong when you slap a high fantasy skin on Bejeweled Twist?
Well, you might end up with a masterpiece. Or, you might end up with one of the most tedious puzzle games ever to grace a console.
Unfortunately, Gyromancer falls into the latter group.
Everyone and their mom has played – and loved – Bejeweled. When Infinite Interactive combined that addictive gem-swapping formula with RPG elements, they created Puzzle Quest, one of 2007′s biggest surprise success stories. Bejeweled Twist used roughly the same formula as its predecessor, but instead of swapping two gems, you rotated a group of four, ninety degrees at a time.
With Gyromancer, PopCap has successfully cloned their own game and tried to sell it to us – again – for $15. However, it’s simply not as good, starting with the biggest contribution Square Enix made to the game: the story.
While the Puzzle Quest storyline was standard RPG cliche, it did keep the action moving from one stage to the next. The Gyromancer storyline does no such thing.
While Puzzle Quest‘s storyboards were placed before and after practically every battle, Gyromancer‘s may be a whole level apart (read: up to two hours). It makes each narrative infusion feel jarring, unexpected, and out of place. Furthermore, the entire game feels overly self-serious, and none of the characters have any, well, character.
“Stop complaining about the narrative failings, I’m here for some puzzle action!” you may say. Fine! But with Square Enix at the helm, I expected something, if not life-altering, at least passingly memorable.
So, how is the gameplay? Well, it’s okay, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. Rotate gems, make groups of three or more. Gems fall, combos ensue, explosion effects occur. Woo.
There is a bit of strategy, however. The premise of the puzzle battles is a one-on-one monster brawl to the death. Each monster has a color/type. Red is fire, beats blue (water) – standard Magic: The Gathering-type stuff. Make sets of gems that match your color, and you fill your ability bar faster (it fills a bit with every turn, nonetheless). Match gems that match your opponent’s color, and their bar fills slower.
A full ability bar puts an attack gem on the board. Destroy that gem to attack your opponent, or prevent him from attacking you. It sounds a little convoluted, but it works.
You move about an overall world map, on tracks, from battle to battle. There are also treasure chests to loot, and four varieties of items that may be consumed to turn the tide of a battle in your favor. You earn experience and level up your interchangeable/upgradeable monsters, but that only seems to affect the damage your abilities do. Within the first few hours, you will already have overpowered creatures if you did even a small amount of side-questing.
The whole game is a very slow, solo affair. There’s no time limit, and your opponent doesn’t get a turn, like in Puzzle Quest. This allows you to strategize a bit, especially since you’re allowed to spin gems without making a match – a vital tactic for some of the later levels, despite the enemy-boosting penalty associated with it. But there’s no sense of pressure, or any motivating force, really. Even a timer would add a much needed sense of urgency to an otherwise unnecessarily slow game.
Also, after a few slogging hours, you will end up merely scrolling the cursor back and forth up the board, as it changes color when a match can be made. This eliminates nearly all of the challenge of discovering matches, and it’s incredibly easy to rely on when you get tired of actually trying to play the game.
I will admit that the core game is still addictive. There are dozens and dozens of awards to earn for achievement whores and completionists, and you won’t find yourself heading for the “objective” point of each map until you explore every corner obsessively.
However, a few hours into the game, Gyromancer gradually shifts from the “fun and interesting” kind of addictive to the “I am really not enjoying this, but I feel compelled to continue” kind of addictive. You wonder if the scene will switch, or a new mechanic will be implemented (added locks on gems, and rocks that get in your way are more a point of annoyance than a new challenge you’ll feel compelled to circumvent), but nothing changes after the first four hours.
I spent dozens of hours on Puzzle Quest without wanting it to be something else. A few hours of Gyromancer and the novelty will wear off and you will be left bereft, wishing you were playing the original RPG puzzler, not this knock-off with prettier pictures.
Gyromancer looks pretty, easily surpassing Puzzle Quest's visuals. The explosion effects are underwhelming compared to other Bejeweled-style games, however.
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The game's puzzle action is still sharp and functional, but the gameplay shifts from "novel" to "tedious" within hours.
Generic high fantasy music consumes the score, and corny Japanese metal dominates the boss fights: so it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect.
You'll be bored in 4-5 hours, then you'll have a bad taste in your mouth afterwards. This is most likely less fun than every PopCap game (or puzzle game, for that matter) that you've ever played.
Gyromancer is a more expensive, more tedious, and less fun version of Puzzle Quest. Stick with the inspiration: you'll save yourself five dollars, and enjoy it a whole lot more.