Puzzle solving games with gems, jewels and shiny objects are a dime a dozen. Sometimes, it doesn't take a gemologist to determine which ones are valuable or worthless colourful bits of glass. Gemology joins this glamorous, risky world of puzzle games hoping to be discovered. But is it really worth it?
How many gem puzzle games are out there? Wading through them can be an exercise in patience just to find one that's a good time-waster. That's really what a lot of them do - they fill a very particular need for mindless, addictive gameplay through racking up points, clearing gems from a board, watching them fall and then moving on to the next level for a small, satisfactory burst of victory. Gemology, however, isn't one of those games. There'll be a bit more victory dancing overcoming some of the puzzles Gemology offers because they can take your brain to task.
Gemology whisks players away in a rickety, dancing cart deep into underground caverns to engage in a couple of mining activities. Lapidiary mode is where a more traditional game of gem puzzle action occurs. With a set number of sticks of dynamite, tapping them on the Wii U GamePad will cause them to explode, which in turn will trigger boulders to fall on a stack of gems and gem rock formations waiting to be freed. It's here where Gemology becomes a puzzle - tapping these boulders will cause them to break apart to reveal five gems which will fall into cracks in a stacked rock/gem formation. As gems are lined up all in a row, players will then be able to clear that gem line, and any connected part of the rock formation will shift rows for more gems to be revealed and fall into place.
Every board has set patterns of the aforementioned rock formations which will need to be cleared, which makes Gemology even trickier. Players will have to decide when to use boulders and how to manipulate them to fall in certain areas before releasing the gems inside. There are no moving or falling gems or objects such as in other games such as Tetris or Bejewelled, with their stream of endless stacked gems. Players have to work with finite number of boulders as, again, there are only a certain number of sticks of dynamite that can be used on any one board. These rocks cannot be manually lifted to be moved around either, but they can be stacked on top of others and moved by breaking fellow rocks underneath. In other words, players will have to think about gravity, and sometimes how to get one rock to roll off another to fill spaces.
Each of the puzzles have some funky designs and are named after some real world aesthetics and humorous quips, such as the "Crane Game" level which has rocks in the formation of, yep, a crane game. The game presents you with these pre-determined designs which players must then figure out how to clear. Some of these boards require some serious thinking; Gemology can toss real difficulty in thanks to these limitations of the set rocks, while simultaneously trying to figure out exactly when to break a boulder or which line to clear. All of this means that Lapidiary mode in Gemology is a game that moves only as quickly as players are able to solve a puzzle, which at times can be anger inducing if you're stuck on a puzzle with no hints to proceed. It does time players' puzzle solving abilities, but this doesn't apply any in-game pressure, really.
There's another mode that functions like a Time Attack offering and is an entirely different game from Lapidiary. This mode is called Annealiation, and players will be given a pool of different coloured gems that can be combined by dragging them with the stylus into each other for giant, super shiny gems. These giant gems, which will sadly only ever be easily available to own in the virtual world, can then be dumped into a waiting mining cart which players fill for points and mining prestige. The bigger the gems players create, the greater the points.
Of course, there's always a catch and that catch is lava (because it's always lava). The gem making process in Annealiation is not timeless, and players will race against rising lava to create these marvellous beauties. As gems fall into the lava these cause the lava to rise while players say goodbye to the precious rocks. This mode has some fun to it, if only to be played as a small mental break from its Lapidiary counterpart. There's no real long lasting fun to it though, so it's just good for a couple of rounds.
Gemology's touch screen mechanics suffer at times for being slow to respond. This is a minor issue that doesn't necessarily detract from the overall game, other than a point of interest that's worth mentioning. However, what's entirely noticeable are Gemology's visuals, and not in a great way. The dull, brown underground caverns and even the gems (which have to be the focus and are bright), aren't going to win any hearts for aesthetics. While there may be some detail in the cavern walls, with barrels in the background filled with gems, Gemology's presentation is unremarkable and very matter-of-fact.
There's little that's wholly engaging about Gemology, whether that's through visuals or its gameplay, and "fun" isn't quite the word that comes to mind when figuring out Lapidiary's puzzles; the emphasis is on player determination, ultimately. There's no notable factor to egg players on to keep at it, either, other than their own resolve to figure out another stage - Gemology is what it is, and what you see is what you get.
That said, there are some small positive moments in its presentation. It's in the little things, such as players being able to sign their name on a virtual work permit to begin life as a miner. There's the miner's hut where players can change options in the game, such as choosing music from very limited tracks. There's nothing really awful or grating about any of the music, though maybe there's a banjo that can drive players nuts if they listen long enough. There's one track that's actually quite good and the music mostly lends well to the mining atmosphere, with a little bit of an upbeat flair. Then of course there's the little bit of humour in the level names and formations in Lapidiary mode. These little details are chuckle worthy, and are a nice touch.
With a relatively lackluster appearance but aptly named puzzles, and gameplay which provides some challenges in puzzle solving, Gemology is best described as a serviceable brain teaser. The time attack mode may be fun for a while but there's no real depth to it. In Gemology, the limitations implemented in Lapidiary mode's game design make for more precision in thought and puzzle solving than is typically found elsewhere. Getting stuck on a puzzle may be wonderful for patient, astute puzzle solving players but for others this may result in more frustration than anything else; sometimes that's what the best puzzles are supposed to do. Overall, Gemology is a mental exercise that's challenging without razzle dazzling the other senses, making it a semi-precious, average gem of a game.