The puzzle genre is one of the few genres that’s as diverse as it is over saturated. Perhaps maybe because just about any game with a brain twister crammed into it can be considered to be a puzzler in some form or another. Though, when it comes to games that are puzzle-only, we start seeing some consistency. The latest puzzle-only game to hit the Xbox One store is that of Gem Smashers; a game that’s described to be a fun journey through a collection of worlds, all of which rests on one singular mechanic – smashing some gems.
Starting up, the game presents you with a simplistic main menu. Here, you’ll be able to access the story, participate in some battles, browse some artwork – once unlocked, check out a slideshow tutorial and adjust some settings. Simple stuff, indeed. Diving into the meat of the matter, the game’s story, will present you with a choice of three characters; a crab, a chick, and some rip-off of Sonic the Hedgehog. Once you’ve selected your character, each of which comes with some slightly altering stats, you’re ready to dive on into the adventure.
When there, you’ll be greeted with a world map. Here, you’ll have access to a range of levels that you can tackle in any order you see fit. Consecutive levels will be unlocked once you’ve completed the ones on offer. To the left side of the screen is a progress tracker that will tell you how far through the game you are via one overall percentage. The game’s story is its weakest point. In fact, it’s downright boring; consisting of little more than a rescue mission that sees the characters evading alien capture, to then set off to rescue all of their friends.
That’s pretty much the sum of the premise, and as such, the whole damn plot. Regardless as to where you are however, the aim of the game remains the same. In Gem Smashers, you guide your character through a range of single-screen locations with just one objective in mind; smash all of the gems to free your friends and then make your way to the exit door. You’ll directly control your character as it spins and bounces to and from all edges of the screen. There’s a catch, of course, being that certain gems require a certain color to smash.
Your character will always start each level, and respawn, in its base color; red for the crab, yellow for the chick and blue for the hedgehog. You’ll need to paint your character during play, through the use of paint jars that are oftentimes hidden behind breakable blocks. Simply smashing said block and touching the paint jar will transfer your color to that color, enabling you to then smash the gems on that level of the same color. Once every single gem has been destroyed, a doorway (oftentimes, also hidden under a block) will open up.
That’s the crux of play, save the handful of bosses that you’ll encounter throughout – more on that later. Each level comes with a range of hazards that you’ll need to avoid, some objects that will further add to your overall score, and the odd power-up to make easy life just that bit easier. I say that because Gem Smashers is ridiculously easy. I found little to no challenge within, making for a puzzler that required more perseverance above anything else. Don’t get me wrong, the game handles well and does what it needs to, but it’s boring.
You’re simply doing the same thing over and over, level in and level out. Spawn into a level, smash its blocks to reveal gems and objects, destroy and collect respectively, and then haul ass to the exit. Rinse and repeat. The game attempts to relay some interesting mechanics as progression is made. There’s blocks that will explode when touched, blocks that invert your controls, blocks that need to be pushed out of the way using a specific color, switches that activate paint jars, teleportation pads, and so on. None of which are particularly interesting.
You see, whilst these do indeed shake up the fields of play to some degree, they do little to add to the game’s devoid difficulty spike. What I will say in their favor is that they work well when it comes to presenting an intialy challenge, but once you suss out how to work around them, that’s as far as the challenge goes. There’s also chests occasionally littered around each stage that you can open and obtain the contents (varying treasure and insta-kill poison) by smashing into it. Then, there’s your skull blocks that need constantly avoiding.
Touching these will immediately kill you, any many a times, they’re deviously placed close to points that you need to interact with. I do have a gripe with this. I lost count of how many times I was taken out by one of these blocks due to the need of pinpoint accuracy. Hell, even stroking past one of these will kill you, and when you’re tasked with squeezing between two or obtaining paint that sits next to one, it can get frustrating to be killed for nothing short of perfect precision. It’s not deal breaker by any means, but wildly irritating.
In regards to the power-ups, some of these are stupidly generous. Take for instance, the flower power. This will turn all gems into flowers and removes the need to paint. Instead, you simply collect the flowers and hit the exit. That’s that. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was infrequent, but it’s not, it’s very frequent and only serves to make the game all that more easier. There’s a grading system, which will reward a total of four stars for quick runs and most points, but it is possible to complete the game without worrying too much about this.
When you’re not smashing gems, you’ll be taking on one of the game’s few bosses. These require very little effort to overcome. Most of the bosses have a weak point on their body that will flash different colors. The goal? You guessed it. Change your character’s color via the paint and hit the weak point a total of five times. There’s a timer to keep in mind of when playing a normal level or a boss level. This will release a killer skull that will chase you, but given that you have infinite lives to lean on, this removes yet even more challenge.
When you’re done with the story, unless you have a thing for unlocked artwork, you can take to the game’s battle mode. Here, you’ll compete to destroy the most gems against your opponent. It’s local only, but a fair bit of fun nevertheless. Touching up on the game’s audio and visual design, the former is horrendous. Very rarely do I turn a game down due to bland audio and sound. Visually, however, Gem Smashers is well detailed and offers some diverse, colorful environments to work through. What a shame its beauty is largely skin deep.
Gem Smashers fails to build on its otherwise decent core mechanic, ultimately making for a game that feels well out of its depth alongside its more sophisticated and robust peers. It doesn’t help that it’s just far too easy for its own good, which isn’t an ideal characteristic for any puzzle game to bear. Fun at first, indeed, but its lack of both innovation and depth massively holds it back from its potential.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.