Sometimes I agree with the sceptics and the fear mongers. Games can have an impact on your life outside of the screen. But I’ve never found myself thinking about Portal all day, though I do like cake. I’ve never found myself trying to stuff Iced Gems into a fat person’s face, hoping that when they are totally gorged they will explode and turn into a planet as Super Mario Galaxy has taught me. These ‘proper’ games with 3D graphics and complex control schemes haven’t burrowed their way into my psyche and kept nudging me whilst I attempt to eat, sleep, work and relax. It’s bloody ‘casual’ games that are far more serious a threat to my sanity. Peggle made me suspect that all animals have special abilities that make them excellent at pinball. Plants Vs. Zombies made me organise my garden offensively for the coming apocalypse. And Gyromancer, the new game from RPG supremo Square Enix and casual gaming king Pop Cap, has got me attempting to match three or more similar wall tiles in order to make all of them burst in a horribly satisfying cascade of virtual shards. When there are no patterned surfaces to look at, I make up moves in my head, keeping the game alive. It’s messed up.
Anyway, Gyromancer is essentially Bejewelled Twist with a brilliantly surreal fantasy plotline tagged on and some vaguely RPG-esque elements. You have the ability to travel with a group of 3 different summoned creatures, all of which are supposed to be doing battle for you whilst you try and move variously colours gems around a large playing board in order to match up three or more. Like the preeminent Puzzle Quest special abilities gems and damage-dealing gems will appear from time to time, but you’re not fighting against a computer opponent in the turn-based style, so your survival or death is entirely down to your own skill. You gain experience points after every match, and level up accordingly, unlocking new creatures and abilities as you go. I’ve found that you can pretty much ignore the RPG elements and just get on with the puzzling, which means that Gyromancer shouldn’t put off those who aren’t accustomed to complex stats screens and correct character combinations. At its heart this is far more Bejewelled than it is Final Fantasy.
In between battles you have to travel around a map sub-screen, filled with roaming creatures, treasure chests and so on. These are not particularly engaging to look at, which is a pity, but they serve a purpose. The story is relayed through text dialogue and hand-drawn 2D pictures. This is not in itself that interesting, but what the characters say more than makes up for the low-fi cutscenes. Each line of dialogue is filled with an almost Chaucerian dialect*, as if someone had been using a copy of a Ye Olde English thesaurus to translate each word into its most archaic and chivalric iteration. So it’s pretty funny. After the first couple you’ll probably want to use the skip button, and because I persisted in doing this I have no idea what’s going on in the story, but it doesn’t detract from the addictive gameplay and life-crippling after effects.
Gyromancer is available now for PC and Xbox 360, and if you have any work to do over the next few weeks I would avoid buying it as it may eat your life. If you’re a student back for the Christmas period, and you’ve got some time to kill, then Gyromancer is the best way to do so. †
*That’s a bit of an exaggeration
†I know the CoD Modern Warfare 2 is probably going to be at the top of most people’s to do lists, but some of us only have 4 year old PCs to do our gaming on