Gears Hands-On Preview

Gears is a departure for Crescent Moon Games, a company known for developing and publishing ambitious RPGs. Those RPGs (Ravensword, Rimelands, and Aralon) happen to be some of the best on the iPhone, so we’re always excited to hear they have a new game in the works.

Gears, their upcoming title, is not an RPG. It’s a 3-D ball rolling game, similar to Marble Madness on the NES or the Dark Nebula series on the iPhone. We got our hands on an early build of the game, and we have to say it’s looking very impressive already.

Most ball rolling games on iDevices have you control your marble using tilt. This will be an option in the final version of Gears, but the default control scheme– and the one we used for the preview– is based on swiping instead. Swipe in any direction, and that’s the way your ball will roll. Swipe your finger quickly to speed up, or drag it slowly to inch along. It’s a cinch to get the hang of, and it seems to allows for more precise control than tilt.

The environments you’ll roll through are colorful and dynamic and full of (you guessed it) gears. Each level takes place high above the ground, on an obstacle course you’d never set foot on in real life. You’ll launch across gaps, crawl over thin bridges, roll between the teeth of gears, over rising and falling platforms, and across disappearing tiles. You’ll flip switches and smash into exploding blocks and bounce on trampolines. The rocky ground is always below you, and one wrong move spells doom.

The difficulty can be unforgiving, but the levels are divided by checkpoints, and you get unlimited lives. The challenge is to reach the funnel at the end of each level within the time limit. Fail to do so, and you’re booted back to the beginning of the level.

Adding replay value to the game are collectible gears scattered throughout each level. In early levels, all of the collectibles are placed directly on your path to the exit, so collecting them all is easy. Later levels have branching pathways and hidden nooks, making it all the more challenging as the timer ticks down.

Gears will come with 27 levels, spread across three visually distinct worlds. It will be a universal app, so one purchase lets you play it on both an iPhone and iPad in native resolution. Pricing hasn’t been determined yet, but the game will be released sometime around March.