It’s not as though you have to reach far to find games that look minimalistic. But most games can be stripped for their spare parts, peeled down before you find whatever is at the core. Not so with Gauge (Free). With Gauge, you have a bar, and your finger, and little else.
But while most games that can be boiled down to a few button presses require only a bare minimum of attention, Gauge takes so much that I have to warn you: don’t blink. The difference between life and death is a fraction of a moment, so hold your breath and accept no distractions.
Gauge may be free, but it’s the demo sort of free. With your download, you get a bar, a gauge, and one spare life. This only gives you a glimpse of how the game plays. A dollar gives you the whole package, with three modes, lives upon lives and scores into the billions just there for the taking.
Here’s how you play: you tap your finger to extend your gauge along the bar and let go to let it fall back toward the middle. If you hit the outer edge, you lose a life. If you let it fall back to the middle of the bar, you lose a life. You earn points the entire time your gauge is between those two points, and the closer you hug the very edge, the more you earn.
Your multiplier climbs while you survive, and serves as a life counter as well. Every so often, glowing bars appear close to the center. Hit those to trigger the second gauge and earn a massive points bonus—assuming you can handle two different gauges moving at two different speeds with two different fingers, at least. The challenge is to ride in the end zone as much as possible, fall back to hit those “take" bonuses, and then get your gauges back to the end—all without even brushing an edge.
It’s a challenge, sure enough, and the game does what it can to keep the task from getting boring. Something changes every few seconds. The background color might cycle, the visual style might alter. Intentionally distracting text pops up, and the whole bar sometimes moves around. The ends move in, the center moves out. The upbeat electronic music makes it nearly impossible not to play Gauge as though it were a rhythm game, tapping with the beat, but that can be a deadly path.
But really, all you can do at any moment is watch your bars and tap. One of the modes adds a time limit to the original, the other adds a tap limit—interesting ways to alter the leaderboard experience, but not fundamentally different. You have to be looking for a very simple experience to enjoy Gauge; if you are, it’s a delight.
Gauge looks artistic, and it looks experimental. It sort of is, but it’s not pretentious. There’s also no sly contempt for the player as it reaches into our pockets—it’s just simple, sexy and fun. Aside from a bit of excessive loading, it’s the perfect palette cleanser of a game, fitting into brief moments between other activities and making them a little more focused, a little more zen. It’s a refreshing little gem, and it deserves at least little of your time. Take a look, and join the discussion.