Despite being announced right as the show began, Gyromancer wasn't on my radar for TGS at all. That was before I saw the awesome trailer. That made me sit up and take notice.
It was natural after that I head to the Square Enix booth at the next available opportunity and try to find a live demo of the just-announced game - and to my surprise, there was one.
Glance at a couple of screenshots of Gyromancer or even the trailer video linked above and you'll notice more than a passing resemblance to the successful RPG/Puzzle fusion Puzzle Quest - and it seems the kings of RPGs over at Square Enix took notice of this title and decided to contract the kings of addictive puzzles over at PopCap to help them try to grab this new genre and firmly make it theirs.
For the most part Gyromancer appears to be exactly what first impressions would have you believe - a Puzzle Quest style game using traditional RPG tropes in a puzzle setting, albeit slightly more complex in this case, clearly aimed at pulling RPG fans into the puzzle genre with challenging RPG elements.
The demo at TGS had players begin in a forest in a very traditional RPG style with the hero able to move around freely with multiple branching paths and side-areas to explore. Enemies also roam the 'overworld', and touching on initiates a battle.
In battle, Gyromancer's lead character uses monsters to fight for him, Pokemon style - these monsters are just a lot less cute. When a battle begins you're shown some basic statistics about your opponent, and you then choose which beast to send in against it in combat.
Here's where it begins like Puzzle Quest, with a grid of gems revealed. Rather than flipping two gems, in this game you rotate four gems at once, similar to Hexic. Matching up three or more gems of the same type grants the player points.
Damage isn't dealt this way, though. Every monster you'll encounter has a type of gem assigned to them - and you'll have to match gems of this color to obtain skill points. When your skill meter is high enough the power from the meter will visibly move from the meter back to gems on the grid - matching those gems will then use skills and deal damage to the opponent.
It's a more complex approach than matching three skulls to damage an opponent but does afford a level of strategy Puzzle Quest often doesn't. The game is all about building up your skill meter high enough that when it filters down to the grid you'll be able to execute a devastating attack.
Players don't share a grid - your opponent will be doing the same, but on a separate, hidden grid of gems. When they build their skill high, the power will again shift to gems on your grid - when this happens, you have to try to eliminate these gems from the board as quickly as possible in order to avoid taking a damaging blow yourself. This too adds to the juggling of how you use each turn.
The game punishes move-wasters, with every move that doesn't result in matching gems reducing your skill meter. Where Puzzle Quest reverses incorrect moves with no penalty, Gyromancer punishes you for them and leaves any changes you made intact. There's no penalty for taking your time, though, and the kind representative that showed me the game suggested I take my time in choosing what gems to move, considering the longer-term consequences rather than rushing in.
As I fought through the demo I got the overwhelming feel that this was being built as a very traditional RPG outside of battles, complete with leveling up and obtaining new monsters and skills as you move forward. At the end of the demo I even gained a new party member.
The story wasn't too clear in what I played, but it definitely appears that this is a single-player focused game and if it can manage to combine addictive puzzle gameplay with an interesting RPG narrative it could become something truly impressive. Puzzle Quest managed the gameplay part, but its storyline was disappointing if anything a hindrance when all you want is to get to the next battle.
It's certainly interesting to see Square Enix partnering with so many Western companies, especially one with as much pedigree as PopCap - and it's a wise decision to bring them in on a game that's in a genre they know better than anyone else.
Gyromancer is definitely shaping up to be an interesting, unique title for Xbox Live Arcade - and we'll bring you more on the game as we get it.
Note: This Article was Published by Alex Donaldson on behalf of John Davies.