Too often, spinning cogs are portrayed as a danger in video games. Consider a lot of platform levels in the earlier Mario and Sonic titles, and dangerous spiky gears would normally make an appearance a few levels in - ready to slice the famous mascots to shreds. So how about a game where gears are for once portrayed in a positive light? This is what developer Drop Dead Interactive has set out to achieve with Gear Gauntlet.
Gear Gauntlet is described as a fun but rage inducing 2D action arcade game with no heroes, no villains to defeat and no world to save. The only tasks are to survive and make it to the end of each level with a stunning score. This is all more than enough, as navigating the gear through each level can prove quite the challenge.
Drop Dead Interactive does not waste any time; after a brief tutorial you're thrown straight into the action. Each level has a number of hazards that the player must pass or avoid - coloured blocks including green, red, blue and yellow varieties are the main barriers. In order to progress past them the colour of the gear must match the block, and this means pressing either A,B, X or Y to match the required block colour at the right time. Other blockades include gates that require keys, and sharpened fixed or moving gears which will damage your own gear if you pass through them. There are also boost pads which speed the gear up, checkpoints, warp blocks and reverse and rotational movements from time to time.
What lifts the tempo of the game is the fast auto-scroll screen - as soon as a level starts the screen will follow closely behind. If the screen outpaces the gear, it's game over. This adds a sense of intensity, and means you cannot casually stroll through each level at your own pace, slowly working out which button must be pressed before the next line of barriers.
Once you've grasped the concept of Gear Gauntlet, you develop a rhythm. A lot of the time each level will require a number of retries before it is mastered. This is all part of the experience. These levels (10 in each of the four gauntlets, aka worlds) vary in difficulty, and each one includes more challenging pressure points that require some impressive navigational skills with the analogue stick. A lot of levels also include points where the pathway splits - generally, though, each level still does a good job at prompting the player to consider what is up ahead.
In each level you're also able to collect gear medallions (gold, silver, bronze & a rare variety) which add to your final score when you get to the end. If the normal difficulty isn't enough, there are also hard and insane modes; on higher difficulties barriers will damage the gear instead of merely halting progress. There's full online leaderboard support as well, which makes multiple playthroughs worthwhile.
Supporting Gear Gauntlet is a rock and roll soundtrack. It seems fitting considering how gears are often associated with danger in other games, so the shredding of guitars and drum beats during the levels and menus works well. The artwork is hand drawn and the overall theme is a gritty presentation - reflective of a greasy but finely tuned cog. Adding to this is a smooth frame rate, which is stable across both the television screen and Wii U GamePad. We'd also suggest that the Pro Controller is a more comfortable choice for couch sessions.
Gear Gauntlet is based on a very simple premise, and the content that is there is captivating enough to justify playing each level multiple times over. The fast-paced nature of the title and rapid decision making that comes with each movement or action is satisfying when you finally nail a run, though it's certainly challenging. If you enjoy fun but punishing games that can be enjoyed in short bursts, this may be one to take a look at.