Brick breaker- style games have been around for years now, with recent offerings including Doughlings: Arcade and the retro reboot Breakout: Recharged proving successful in keeping the concept alive. Gematombe is another such offering with gems to break, albeit in a slightly different way. What it does is introduce additional ideas that you’re more likely to see in the Bust-a-Move series.
So, can Gematombe deliver a hybrid action-puzzler for the ages, or will it fall short and crush your hopes of an exciting brick breaker?
Essentially, Gematombe is a competitive arcade puzzler, seeing you go up against opponents with two goals in mind – to Crush or Clear. The tutorial is the recommended place to start, which covers the basic mechanics of every match. A ball must be fired vertically towards various coloured gems in order to break them and acquire souls. This ball will bounce from gem to gem until returning to be caught by the initial launcher, where it’ll be shot again.
Clearing your area leads to victory, but the opponent might have some say in that as they can send additional rows – and other special gems – your way. Subsequently, you’re able to do the same and potentially overwhelm them enough to deliver a crushing blow. Either route to glory is fine. There are a couple of aspects overlooked during the tutorial however, including the fact that the first contact made by the ball only removes a single gem, yet the following hits can see clusters of similar coloured gems broken up.
It also fails to explain the abilities possessed by each of the characters, which can hinder the opposition greatly. These abilities turn gems into tougher versions requiring additional hits, spawn a group of a particular colour on their playfield, force every row to move downwards, and even change the colour of gems. Chances are, you won’t notice much of what’s going on in their area though, for it’s very fast-paced.
From the moment a battle begins, clearing those gems must be done effectively and efficiently. There’s no time to dilly-dally with opponents that are utterly ruthless on the normal difficulty level. Gematombe is exciting and fun, but at the same time, you could feel as though you’ve hit the ground running and still be defeated in less than a minute. Shifting down to easy mode makes the AI ridiculously dumb however, so it goes from one extreme to another. I saw the opponent miss the only gem in their area after almost ten attempts, before putting them out of their misery. Even Stormtroopers would be embarrassed by the poor aim.
And speaking of poor aim, the aiming assist line which helps predict the trajectory of the ball is rather inaccurate. On numerous occasions, a seemingly well-lined up shot will miss its mark or clip the edge of a gem that isn’t supposed to be hit. It’s a minor collision detection issue clearly, but not the worst thing that could happen. You could watch the ball glitch out and go from left to right repeatedly, forcing a complete restart. While that only occurred twice during my time with Gematombe, it’s not ideal.
Moving on to the game modes and the Arcade mode draws inspiration from Greek mythology as you’ll discover during the sparse narrative found here. Each of the six characters has their own little story, playing out across six stages. There are cartoony daemones at the forefront of what’s going on, with designs and names befitting of their personalities. Ania the Sorrow is always snivelling, Pandora the Hope seeks to return the spirits to where they belong, Apate the Deceit is a bit of a trickster, and so on.
Despite the insipid tales, Arcade is the most enjoyable mode as you will experience all of the different abilities and the encounters don’t take long to finish. Completing every character’s Arcade run can be done in under two hours and by the end of it you’ll probably have had enough. Sure, there’s an endless Survivor mode and a place to practice, but they seem pointless – especially without online leaderboards to show off those survival skills.
If you have a friend interested in playing, then local versus action is a possibility. Whether or not that’s going to provide much longevity is dependent upon how enjoyable you both find one-off matches.
Ultimately, Gematombe launches a decent arcade puzzle concept onto the market, but then misfires in various ways. At its core, the brick breaker gameplay is exciting, with the Arcade mode proving to be the centrepiece. Beyond that though, the shortcomings of the mechanics, the lack of online leaderboards – at the very least – and the unbalanced AI, make it a tough sell.
Given the price of £14.99, Gematombe just doesn’t deliver enough bang for your buck and you’d be better off looking elsewhere.