While most of the community have been loading their gnashers and revving their chainsaws to return to the Gears fold, I have found myself interacting with cogs, but of the distinctly more traditional, and less armour clad type. Of course, I am referring to Drop Dead Interactive’s new puzzle game Gear Gauntlet.
With no story or enemies, Gear Gauntlet is as straight down the line as you can need, you must simply move your gear, through the gauntlet, (no guesses where the title comes from), to the exit portal. Between you and this goal are a plethora of hazards and obstacles and with the edge of the screen permanently chasing you down with instadeath should it reach you, there is no time to think, only react. This twitch style gameplay mixed with its increasing difficult and high-speed obstacles make Gear Gauntlet a puzzler I would put on par with the superlative Super Meat Boy in its difficulty and complexity.
So what makes it so difficult you may be wondering? Each level is dotted with multiple paths of varying difficulty, with stationary and moving buzzsaws that also result in instadeath, breakable blocks that correspond to a particular face button with a mechanic similar to Gaucamelee’s combat; where you must transform yourself into the colour of the corresponding block in order to break through. These blockages will stop you dead if you are incorrectly aligned, and as you progress the frequency of these blockages ramp up to the point where memorising the colour sequence is essentially a massive game of Simon while dodging numerous buzzsaws, both stationary and moving, all the while running from the end of the screen.
While you are doing this, you must also keep your eye out for collectable bronze, silver and gold gears which contribute to your overall score, ranging from an S for exceeding all criteria to an F for, well to be totally honest, most normal people. You will undoubtedly see a lot of F’s unless you have the reflexes of a cat and the memory of an elephant as the death limit of each level is laughably low.
Alongside all these obstacles and collectables, you will also find portals that will teleport you to new sections, keys that unlock challenge path’s and the holy grail of a platinum gear which, should you manage to retrieve and make your way to the end of the level will boost your score by a whopping 5000 points. Typically, this rare gear is hidden on the most dangerous, complicated and mind-bending path within the level, and with checkpoints few and far between, only the brave will dare to try to find each one secreted within the level.
Most traditional puzzle games strike a fine line between frustration and reward, and Gear Gauntlet straddles that line for the majority of its 40 levels. On a few occasions, the obstacles timing seemed to be near impossible to overcome at all, let alone with only a handful of deaths, but this appears to be because the environmental obstacles do not reset when you are put back and as such you cannot rightly predict what moves you must make in each concurrent attempt in order to keep you safe from harm. One level on the final world had me rack up an impressive 85 deaths, at least 60 of which all occurred on the same particular obstacle that would utterly block your path with only the slightest of gaps to navigate, should the planets align and the timing of the environment be on your side. A fair deal of this can be attributed to my degrading reactions, but even so, the difficulty spikes both within the level and from one stage to the next could cause most casual players to look the other way.
Gear Gauntlet is a hardcore masochist’s playground, slicing away all the fat of story and enemies to place a full meal of intense, eye melting, reaction dumbing gameplay across its four stages. With leader boards to also show you how you fare against others, there is plenty of reason to come back and give levels another go. Though be warned, only the brave need apply.