It was back in October of last year that we first learned of Gears, a new ball rolling game from Mobile Game Garage that was set to get the extreme graphical makeover treatment from fellow iOS developer Crescent Moon Games. Not surprisingly, the before and after screens were quite astonishing, and Gears was shaping up to be quite a beautiful game. After a longer than anticipated development time, we finally got a trailer for Gears in early February followed by a hands-on gameplay video a couple of weeks later. And at long last, Gears [99¢] is finally available for download in the App Store.

First things first: Gears is gorgeous. Crescent Moon has worked some serious mojo on the graphics here, which are entirely rendered in 3D and utilize a fantasy/steampunk theme that suits the game well. Retina Display equipped devices will be treated to high resolution visuals, and there are additional special enhancements for the extra power of the iPad 2. Also, owners of older devices can choose from different levels of graphical quality to increase performance if need be. No matter which device you're playing on, Gears looks spectacular with a ton of detail and impressive effects throughout.

The campaign in Gears consists of 27 levels spread across 3 different themed worlds with 9 levels apiece. Each level has a set number of power gears to collect on your way to the finish. It’s not necessary to collect them all, though higher scores and thus better medals are awarded based on how many you do manage to pick up. The levels are all really well designed, and the type of terrain you must traverse is what really sets Gears apart from other ball rolling games. Levels are rife with moving gears (naturally), stairs, narrow bridges, trampolines, gates, exploding boxes, and various other obstacles that can impede your progress.

The first set of 9 levels won’t prove too much of a challenge, and in fact serve as a perfect introduction to playing the game without being a total cakewalk. In world 2 and beyond, however, the difficulty ramps up quite a bit. Thankfully this is handled beautifully with the ability to choose from 4 difficulty levels at any time during the campaign.

Easy is where I suggest starting from, as there is no time limit and you’re free to take as long as you need to reach the finish. Normal gives a generous time limit that allows for making some mistakes while still being able to complete it, and Hard gives you a stricter time limit that requires a fairly flawless run. All 3 of these difficulties give you unlimited lives and take advantage of the many checkpoints spread throughout every level, transporting you back to the last one that was triggered should you see your demise (which you will, a lot).

Then there’s Brutal difficulty, which is reserved for masochists only. Brutal gives you the same time limit as Hard but you only get 1 life, and rolling your ball off the path will result in having to start over from the beginning of the level. It certainly earns the title of Brutal difficulty, but playing on the harder difficulty settings will earn you additional bonus points at the end of a level which is key to earning high scores and competing on the Game Center leaderboards.

The number one thing that really stands out about Gears to me is the excellent touch controls. There are many ball rolling games in the App Store, most of them meant to be played with tilt controls. This makes sense due to the accelerometer and gyroscope capabilities of iOS devices, and Gears too has a completely competent tilt control system should you prefer using that. But touch controls are totally where it’s at. There’s never been a ball roller with touch controls this good, and once you’re comfortable with the nuance of them you’ll feel like you have solid control over your little shiny ball.

Gears is everything you would expect from a Crescent Moon release. It has fantastic production values, amazing graphics, brilliant controls, and a solid set of well designed levels to play through. What’s crazy is that they took something as simple as a ball rolling game and made it feel like something more. The difficulty might be a little much for your average gamer, but thanks to the Easy setting, it’s at least possible to complete the entire game with a little perseverance rather than limiting it to only the most hardcore and dedicated players.

Even if you’re not a fan of the ball rolling genre (which aside from the classic Marble Madness, I’m not) Gears is totally worth a look as it feels much different from what’s already out there. Players in our forums have been loving this one as well, and for the introductory price of 99¢ Gears is highly recommended.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.taptoplay.de Lakeshore

    Fantastic looking game on the iPad. Good looking game on the iPhone 3GS.

    But, sigh, the iPhone and iPad games don’t sync their progress. AS USUAL.

    I played the first level on the iPhone, then started the game on the iPad, opened the leaderboards, saw my score, started playing and the game starts with the (already played) level 1, telling me, that there are no high scores… Wait? Didn’t I see the highscores 10 seconds before in Game Center? Yes. But. AS USUAL, the game only stores into the Game Center and does not read what’s saved there.

    Come on, devs. You created a universal app, you added Game Center support to it, is it too hard to think about a situation, where a player plays the same game with the same game on different devices and does not want to start over again and again and again? Is it really to hard, to read some information out of Game Center?

    • Steve

      Game Center does not support that feature (i.e. to store save games, progress etc).

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dimitris-Katsafouros/666754640 Dimitris Katsafouros

        Yes it does. You can easily see that on real racing 2

      • nizy

        Firemint implemented that using their own cloudcell tech. It just links your GC account to cloudcell.

      • http://www.taptoplay.de Lakeshore

        You are right in that Game Center still does not allow you to store customized savegame-files like OpenFeint and Plus+ do. But of course you can upload and download the data types Game Center supports, like scores. For a game like Gears which stores time and scores it should be easy to sync this information with Game Center. Especially, it should be very easy to mark those levels completed and display a local highscores, which have a saved highscore in Game Center. This would be everything you need to be able to progress in this game cross-device.

        BTW: Of course you can always use different ways at once, like using Game Center as a default for only uploading scores and OpenFeint, Dropbox or Plus+ as an option to sync the complete savegame files.

  • GiHub

    Jared (and other readers), which do you think is better - Gears or Dark Nebula 2?

    • http://www.taptoplay.de Lakeshore

      After playing through some of the levels of the first world I would prefer Dark Nebula. I like the graphical style of DN2 more, it feels more fluid, the controls are more tight (tilt is unusable and with touch you always hide the screen…) and the levels gave me surprises after surprises, where in G I’m always rolling over gears and little bridges and felt bored after the first levels. But, G is MUCH more harder than DN2. You really have to know the levels to go fast through them because you have to know where to slow down - many fast parts of the levels do not end with a wall, but with nothing and you fall down very often.

    • TheTheory

      I never got into DN2 because I don't like the tilt controls. Gears I'm enjoying much more simply because the touch controls handle really well. But it is all probably a matter of preference.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      I agree with TheTheory. The Dark Nebula games are really brilliant, well designed games, but I just don't like tilt controls. If you're a die hard tilt control fanatic, then you probably won't like Gears as much and should go for DN. If you don't like tilt controls, then Gears is the ball roller for you hands down.

  • Anonymous

    "and Gears too has a completely competent tilt control system should you prefer using that. But tilt controls is totally where it’s at. There’s never been a ball roller with touch controls this good"

    Say what now?!

    • Lukwtwz

      Based on the context, it's obvious that Jared meant to write "But touch controls [are] totally where it's at." Tilt on brutal is harder, and not just for masochists, but for those with better precision period. If one ever gets there, then that where it will seem "to be at."

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Fixed, thanks.

  • http://modmyi.com/forums/iphone-4-new-skins-themes-launches/740147-neurotech-hd.html#post5637502 Jay

    I was surprised by how well the tilt controls were done. Personally I hate games that require me to hold my iPod at one angle or another.

    The game is a little hard, and I don't know how much I'm going to play it ultimately, but I'm stoked I got it for a dollar! Lots of production value for $.99.

    Also, sometimes the sound messes up on the Touch 4G. Not sure why.

  • Anonymous

    I love this game. Such a fun challenge!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jaison13 Jaison Corleone

    i'd go with gears of course because i'm playing on an ipad 2. no DN games for the ipad. you don't have to actually touch anywhere near the ball so you don't have to block the gameplay using touch control.

  • Nothin

    How can i get high score? I can only get 30k+ score for levl 3 or 4. But the highest score is 50k+ which makes me think wth?? How exactly they do it?

  • Nicholas Randall

    This game just sucks. I opened it up on my iPod touch 4g, eagerly awaiting a well-crafted masterpiece. And I got what felt like a cobbled-together mash of low-res textures , low framerate, antagonizing controls, and poorly designed levels. Meh. Toucharcade can be hit-or-miss with its 5-star reviews. 

  • volodoscope

    Never got the controls working for me. I love Tilt2 though. Beautiful game!

Gears Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 5