Gears of Awe

Crescent Moon Games are on a seemingly unstoppable roll. Having cemented their reputation as one of the most ambitious and consistently brilliant iOS developers on the planet with a string of commercially and critically acclaimed RPGs including Aralon and Rimelands, rather surprisingly, the studio’s latest release, Gears, sees them ditch the epic scale, vast fantasy worlds and swords ‘n’ sorcery of previous titles, and turn out a casual rolling-ball platformer instead. Unsurprisingly, it rocks.

Now, while Gears (out now, $0.99) is, ahem, geared more toward an audience who like to pick up and play their mobile games in manageable chunks, an undeniably stylish, steampunk-inspired aesthetic, well-shaped difficulty curve and the gasp-worthy level of intricate detail that’s been lavished on each and every inch of this title’s 27 levels and three diverse environments – the inner-workings of a clockwork powered world, the bowels of a volcano and a labyrinthine complex of caverns – ensure CM’s core fan base won’t be left wanting either.

Each of Gears’ stages tasks you with guiding an orb (which looks as if it could have been designed by Carl Fabergé) through an ingenious obstacle course comprised of ginormous cogs, floating platforms, bridges and more in order to reach the exit point. En route, you must try to snag as many shimmering power gears as possible, solve a series of physics-based problems and, if you’re the adventurous type, discover secret pathways and areas, all while taking care not to careen off the edges of objects, naturally.

Gears boasts two control schemes: tilt and a gesture-based touch option. Having rolled my way successfully through the likes of Mad ‘O’ Ball 3D, Super Ball Escape and Dark Nebulas 1 & 2, I decided to give Gears’ accelerometer-powered controls a go, but after a bit of experimentation, found I much preferred the game’s more accurate swipe-to-roll system. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of tweaking Gears’ in-game settings: switching over to ‘easy’ mode removes the frustrating against-the-clock aspect (casual gamers and time-strapped reviewers, rejoice!), and you can also toggle the game’s graphical quality so as it will perform more smoothly and look even lovelier on high-end iDevices like iPad 2 and iPhone 4.

Sumptious eye-candy and incredibly tight, responsive controls are all well and good, but the true star of show here is Gears’ imaginative and expertly realized level design, which allows CM the freedom to play with your expectations of the ball-rolling genre and helps no end in keeping the title feeling fresh and exciting for its duration. Honestly, as I traversed the game’s topsy-turvy, multi-tiered environments, time and time again I was taken aback and delighted by the diverse nature of the gameplay on offer.

One minute you’re tentatively trundling along a barely there walkway suspended over a white-hot pit of magma, the next your zapping down an Escher-esque staircase or trying to figure out how the heck you’re going to navigate a scattering of trampolines that stretch as far as the eye can see unscathed. It’s this blend of scintillating, intensely challenging action, thought-provoking layout of traps and obstacles and thrilling sense of discovery and achievement that conspires to make Gears not only my new favorite ball-roller, but also the most accomplished and downright enjoyable platform game, 3D or otherwise, I’ve yet to play on iOS.

All in all, CM really have done a bang-up job of making sure Gears will appeal to as wide an audience as possible; it’s accessible enough that casual gamers tempted by its simple ball-rolling premise and cut-rate $0.99 price-tag will relish working their way through the less taxing difficulty levels, the maddeningly unforgiving ‘Hard’ and ‘Brutal’ modes should appeal more to the hardcore posse, while Game Center addicts are well catered for with online leaderboards. In short, I’d wholeheartedly recommend picking up Gears to anyone and everyone that owns an iDevice – hence the perfect score.

CM’s unstoppable roll continues…

iFanzine Verdict: Breathtakingly beautiful and brainteasingly brilliant, Gears is an utterly peerless 3D platformer-cum-ball rolling adventure. I’m waiting on tenterhooks for Crescent Moon’s next bound to be brilliant title.

[xrr rating=5/5]