Once in a while, a game releases that has potential buyers scratching their heads. As a puzzler that originally debuted for Game Boy Advance about 15 years ago, does this new iteration of Gem Smashers offer enjoyable puzzle gameplay?
Gem Smashers is played by guiding a ball left and right as it perpetually moves up and down and bounces off walls. It's as if you're playing Breakout but instead of controlling a paddle, you control the ball itself. This formula would be pretty lame on its own so thankfully, there are plenty of hazards, power-ups, and a colour mechanic in play. The goal is to rid each stage of every coloured gem. However, you can only smash gems that match your current colour so you have to swap your colour at the corresponding paint block. A lot of the stages task you with uncovering necessary blocks by destroying generic breakable blocks to reveal what's underneath them. So, each stage usually plays out by first revealing as much of the stage as you can then swapping your colour to clear out the gems all while avoiding hazards and hopefully collecting a few handy power-ups in the process.
The gameplay is very basic in that all you do is push left and right but there are a lot of mechanics that slowly get introduced. Such mechanics include blocks that reverse the controls, explode shortly after being touched, and move when your colour matches it as well as switches that activate paint blocks. The challenge relies on completing stages as quickly as possible while acquiring as many items as you can in order to maximize your score and hopefully earn all of the stars as a result. It can be quite tricky to figure out the optimal order of events to master each stage. Overall, the gameplay may be simple but these additional mechanics offer plenty of variety.
Gem Smashers allows you to play as a crab named Bau, a chick known as Bam, and a hedgehog who goes by Soni... I mean Bom. Some blocks can only be destroyed while playing as Bam which is very strange. Why would they limit your enjoyment if you decide to play as either of the two other characters? It makes no sense. Anyway, there's a local multiplayer battle mode where you basically compete to see who can smash the most gems within a couple of stages. It's pretty fun stuff and definitely the most enjoyable way to play.
The single player story mode contains dozens of stages located within eight distinct environments such as a desert, forest, etc. As you progress, you'll unlock artwork in the extras gallery but unlocking everything merely involves completing the game. This is disappointing because there's almost no incentive to try your best due to the lack of features such as leaderboards. In fact, you can't even perish while playing. As you play, a timer counts down and when it's up, a skull chases you around. No matter how many times you "die" from a hazard or this floating skull, you just keep on playing with no repercussions. When you combine this with the fact that some power-ups are ridiculously powerful, you're left with one incredibly easy campaign. On a couple of occasions, I beat a stage as soon as it started because I collected a power-up that exploded all the gems then just went to the exit without realising that I beat it already.
If Gem Smashers posed any sort of challenge then it would be a good (if not, great) puzzler due to its unique mechanics and intuitive gameplay. Considering you can't even die, the only enjoyable way to play it is via local multiplayer.
- + Simple Breakout-style gameplay with colour-based puzzle elements
- + Lots of mechanics help mix things up
- + Playing against a friend is pretty fun
- - You can't die or get a game over which makes the story campaign ridiculously easy
- - Power-ups are incredibly imbalanced
- - No online multiplayer or leaderboards