PopCap is about three months from ruling the world thanks to Bejeweled. Their puzzle series has worked its way into nearly every household and has to be responsible for several million dollars' worth of lost work every year, as employees rush to minimize the screen as their bosses pass by. It's a game that is both simple and addictive, the two necessary ingredients to a successful casual game. With such simple appeal, it's no surprise that the gem-covered board eventually made its way into gaming as an mechanic, just like clicking a mouse to pull a trigger. The first title to really go all out with the concept was Puzzle Quest, which gave birth not just to the puzzle/RPG hybrid, but the puzzle/anything hybrid. Because it was the originator, it's tempting to point a finger and yell "rip-off!" every time a developer implements a puzzle mechanic into their game. It happened with Henry Hatsworth, despite not being even remotely similar, and it's bound to happen with Square-Enix's Gyromancer.
This time, however, it's both more and less justified. On the one hand, the basic concept is very similar in that both games mix together RPGs and puzzle games. In fact, screenshots of the combat are almost indistinguishable from D3's RPG, with a character on each side, skills under their image, and a number of different colored gems that need to be matched up. On the other, this one also has the PopCap logo at the beginning of the game, a good sign that it isn't a "rip-off" by any means. Even without that footnote, the differences between the games are so great that calling it a Puzzle Quest clone is a disservice, and Gyromancer is, instead, an entirely unique experience.
Wandering around the world should look pretty familiar to anyone who has played an RPG. It's a dungeon crawl, with a number of different paths that lead to optional quests, treasure chests, and mission objectives. There are also wandering monsters that initiate combat when encountered. Fighting enemies is, as is usually the case in the genre, the main gameplay element in Gyromancer, and most of the time spent playing the game amounts to playing a slightly modified version of Bejeweled Twist.
It happen like this: when battles are entered, the player chooses from three monsters to fight in his name, each with its own affinity to a different color that is tied to its skills. The color is represented on the board, and the player has to twist gems clockwise to get three of the same color to match up. When they do, both creatures' skill bars fill up (slightly more so if it matches the affinity). When the player's monster's ability fills up, it's thrown onto the board, possessing a gem, and can be matched to deal damage, destroy other gems, and give different bonuses. If an opponent's skill fills up, it's put on the board as well, but instead has a counter. Since it isn't turn-based, the player needs to destroy the opponent's skill gems before the timer runs out, something which becomes increasingly difficult as the game goes on. There's no generic "damage" block on the board, so it's all about the creature's skills, and using them before the opponent's are triggered.
Early on, battles can be fairly simple. Grinding through the first few boards and completing the side objectives should unlock a few new creatures and fill the player's inventory. After a little time goes on, however, the idea of an "idle twist" throws the system for a loop, punishing the player for twists that don't match gems by knocking two off of opponents' gem timers and filling their skills much faster. Thankfully, being built on the back of Bejeweled Twist means the combat is extremely addictive, and while it might sound like running around and fighting monsters using the same combat over and over again might get old, it doesn't. In fact, revisiting old areas and defeating monsters again isn't as much of a grind because of the puzzle element, and no one has ever complained that playing Bejeweled gets old.
Despite being worked on by both Square-Enix, the master of story, and PopCap, the lords of simplicity and presentation, most of the issues with Gyromancer are due to flaws in these areas. The story is utterly boring, and it's nearly impossible to stay interested due to poor visuals. There's no voice acting, which would be forgivable if the characters at least moved, but they're still images, throwing it back to the SNES era. There's also an issue of the learning curve, which might seem a bit drastic during the early levels. A poor tutorial throws gamers out without full knowledge of what to expect with the game, making the first few encounters much more difficult than they need to be. Thankfully, these issues are ignored without too much trouble, and the blissfully addictive nature of the game is hard to ignore.
Popcap and Square-Enix's first joint effort isn't perfect, but damn if it isn't enjoyable. There is definitely more than enough content to justify a purchase for any fan of this new genre, and the lack of multiplayer is all but forgiven thanks to the unique combat elements, which, in all honesty, wouldn't have adapted well in the first place. It's a singleplayer tango this time around, and provides a lengthy campaign for anyone interested. Because the gameplay is Bejeweled Twist with RPG elements, the actual core mechanics never get old, making Gyromancer one of the most addictive downloadable games of the year.