Square-Enix has been churning out quite a number of titles across PSN and XBLA of late, yet gamers feasting their eyes on Gyromancer for the first time might be forgiven for thinking that it's just another variation on Puzzle Quest. Whilst there certainly are a number of similarities in the game, there are also a number of differences. Not least of these is a story holding the game together that makes a little bit more sense, but also the way in which the game works mechanically.
Gyromancer is somewhat different. Instead of swapping the various coloured orbs horizontally and vertically to match three or more of the same colour pieces, a 2x2 cursor allows only for rotating the highlighted square grid clockwise. Whilst this might not be a huge departure from this style of puzzle-matching, it does change the thinking required a little, but perhaps the biggest divergence is the fact you don't take it in turns to match gems; in essence you're playing against yourself.
The player has in his control a number of critters with varying statistics and skills selectable at the start of each battle from the “Beast Roster”. The selection as to which is grisly to be used in the battle can make a difference, the trouble is it isn't always obvious until the player has a little more experience under-the-belt and has learnt a little more about the foes likely to be faced; yet it's vitally important to understand as this is a key mechanic of the game.
Based on the alignment of the creatures, matching orbs of different colours increases the player's gauges, in turn powering up a spell ready to be unleashed with a further gem match. However, turns where no matches occur will fill the opponent's action gauge. When this happens, a skull countdown gem appears on the board with a turn timer attached to it, if this timer reaches zero, the enemy will unleash its special power, inflicting damage on the beast that's fighting in battle. It is possible to destroy the skulls by matching them out; it's a case of deciding whether attack is better than defence.
Similarities to Puzzle Quest may be made in the way the player journeys from place-to-place. A world map with key locations indicates where a player may travel to, the icon of which can mean healing or delving in to the colour matching battle system.
Beating an opponent gains experience and in turn will increase the level of the beast that has fought within them. Every beast has a maximum level though, so can only increase so far. Fortunately it's possible to recruit new and more powerful creatures along the way by use of “Gyro Codes” - these are used to summon creatures that must be defeated in order to add them to the party; a necessity to defeat the foes encountered further in the game. One further thing to take into account is recovery of the Beast Roster. Along the travels on the world map are health shrines that will heal everyone and save the game, so deciding when to use these can be a key factor in battles victory.
For those looking for bump-mapped textures and multi-source shaded lighting in Gyromancer, there's going to be disappointment. That said, there is some very nice art work throughout the game as the story is told through reams of text, accompanied with some very well orchestrated music. Presentation despite the limitations of the XBLA format is pretty much flawless for this type of game. Menu selections are quick and easy, and there's never any doubt about what is going on.
Gyromancer is an interesting game and puts a slightly different twist on the puzzle-matching-RPG spliced game play. The trouble here is Puzzle Quest can now be had for 400 MSP pummelling the 1200 asked for by Square-Enix, particularly given just how much entertainment can be had in the alternate game. Puzzle Quest is also easier to get to grips with, even if the story makes less sense. If Puzzle Quest didn't exist, Gyromancer would be without a doubt the greatest RPG-Puzzler on XBLA and is definitely worth a look if you've had your fill of the alternatives. As it stands, it currently sits in second place behind Puzzle Quest in enjoyment and fun factor.