After all the fun I’ve been having with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, Jewel Quest, and the like, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to add another puzzler to my XBLA collection! Gel: Set & Match definitely looks like a solid addition to a puzzle lover’s library, and it does deliver as promised, but it’s indeed a challenge not all puzzle fans might be willing to overcome. You’ve been warned: be ready to bust your brain with intense gel-melting action!
The game has a few different modes: Puzzle, Action, and Xbox LIVE co-op play and multiplayer versus Battle. They all have the same basics as far as matching jelly blocks and performing combos and chains. Just match four or more blocks of the same color and they’ll melt. Some blocks can be lifted and placed elsewhere, pushed, or thrown against a group of blocks, while others, the ones with the 100lb. sign, can’t be moved at all. You’ll just have to figure out ways to match them and melt them down. This requires a lot more thinking than you might anticipate, especially on puzzle mode, where you have to melt everything on the stage before moving on to the next level. Oftentimes there’ll be metallic casing and/or other similar barriers around a group of blocks you’ll have to overcome with a melting explosion right next to it.
In order to do combos and chain reactions, you can pick up a melting block and throw it towards the next group of blocks (of the same color) to make them disappear as well, and the more matches you do in a row, the longer the chain and the more points you get. However, the main goal, at least in puzzle mode, is to solve the puzzle in as few moves at possible. Every move counts, just like in a game of golf, and you have to try to do it on par or below to achieve a higher score, collect stars, and unlock new stages. There are over 100 levels, including the special ones you get when you complete a set of levels at least on par. Without a doubt, there’s a lot of value just in Puzzle mode, but I have to admit the gameplay is somewhat challenging and won’t suit everyone’s taste, as much as they might love Tetris-style games.
Action mode is a lot more frenzied. While it’s not as mind-bending as the first mode, there’s still a good level of difficulty, and the further you go, the tougher it gets. There’s a bit of a story to it, as the main character is trying to help out his town. A tank is moving forward in a side-scrolling fashion, and tons of jelly blocks are laid out right in front of it. You’ll just have to move fast and do combos, melt away anything on the stage so the tank can advance freely without the hazardous handicaps. I found this mode to be much more appealing than the first one, just because I find fast-paced gameplay to be more rewarding.
The multiplayer modes are also a nice addition. I find a lot of value in a game with so many gameplay modes, especially when it just cost me ten bucks. You can play co-op with an online or local friend and even battle it out against up to three others in total jelly-melting mayhem. If your friends enjoy the same kind of puzzling challenges, the three different multiplayer modes (Fever Points, Emblem, and Volleybomb) can definitely become addictive. The fun won’t last forever, but it’ll be a nice change of pace for those looking for new excitement.
The aardvark-like creature you control throughout the game is interesting. I can’t say it struck me as cute or inspiring, but the ability to unlock costumes for it as you rack up stars makes it funny. It’s obvious that the developers wanted to extend the experience by adding the character customization formula. Turning the guy into a cowboy, a mad scientist, or a Victorian lady adds a humorous touch to the otherwise slightly bland presentation. The game sure is colorful, and the jelly textures are fun to look at, but the chess-inspired puzzle board and the simplistic storyline in Action mode don’t do much for the overall look and feel of the game.
The aural presentation is not award-winning material either. Simple tunes fit the themes in Action mode, and in puzzle mode you’ll pretty much hear the same music throughout. I like the melting sound effects and rewarding sounds when you match the pieces, but other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to celebrate. On the same token, there’s nothing to complain about either, which is a good thing.
This game wasn’t extremely fun to start with; the steep learning curve after just the first couple of stages might turn some people off before they even give it a chance. However, if you stick with it long enough, you might find out this is actually a nice puzzle offering for an affordable price. Action mode is definitely the most fun, but all the multiplayer action and dozens of puzzle stages help to make Gel even more valuable. If you read this review from beginning to end, this game might be something worth looking into.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The level and character design has a kiddy vibe that might get some people confused, considering the level of challenge of this game. Gel textures are cool and fun to look at. 3.8 Control
This game is easy enough to play. Once you know the basics, you should be able to move and throw blocks like a pro. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Simple music and sound effects suit the game but don’t make it special. 3.9 Play Value
There’s a whole lot to do if you enjoy challenging puzzlers: over 100 levels on Puzzle mode, tons of stages on Action mode, co-op support, and several multiplayer modes locally or via Xbox LIVE. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.