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iPad Game Review: Gear Jack Black Hole Review
      #46434 - 05/12/14 03:33 PM

Gear Jack Black Hole is an endless runner that features gear (coin) collecting, power-ups, upgradeable talents, and, true to the title, black holes that will unceremoniously drop you into different zones. How do you die? Let me count the ways...



Gameplay

Gear Jack Black Hole is a horizontal endless runner. You begin each run narrowly escaping the jaws of a monster and never look back. There are spike traps, blob traps, pits, low ceilings, sleeping monsters (sshhhh... move quietly), camouflaged monsters (don't pick up the odd looking gear!), boulders, sawblades, well, you get the idea. To evade these menaces, at any given time, you can do one of three things: jump, tuck/roll, walk quietly. If it sounds easy, take my word for it; it's not; and for the right reasons. Yes, the game is challenging, but not because of the interface. It's hard because there is lots going on, and while your choices may bring you a favored power-up or some extra gears, they are just as likely to land you in a spike trap or a dead-end cavern. Individual runs don't last very long, but you will get better at identifying each obstacle in time to react so take heart; your scores will improve. At all times, there will be three objectives. Achieving these objectives will reward you with gears. While not a new mechanic in the genre, it's implemented quite well here; and does a great job of keeping gameplay feeling fresh and varied. As you play, you will occasionally run through a black hole, and warp into a different world, complete with different obstacles and terrain. This works well, and you are given a few moments of hazard-free running after each warp to get your bearings again. Lastly, Gear Jack Black Hole supports both Game Center Achievements, and Leaderboards.



Unfortunately, while Gear Jack Black Hole's gameplay is quite fun, the game's infrastructure feels like it was coded at the point of a gun by a team of marketing executives and accountants. There are two currencies, gears and shurikens. Gears can be collected in-game, and are used to enhance talents, buy costumes, and unlock characters. Shurikens, on the other hand, can only be found (rarely) inside the occasional chest, and are used to continue a run where you left off. Because these are so precious, and are so difficult to replenish, I've never used a single one (after a week of play, I only have 8!). Perhaps if they were a bit more common, I'd be tempted to use them occasionally, and maybe even buy some. As it is now, however, their rarity has only succeeded in training me not to use them. Of course, both currencies can be purchased with real money, and players will need to be extremely patient and persistent to advance without doing so. Then there's the arm-twisting and in-your-face marketing. After each run, you are given the option to continue your run by spending a shuriken. This screen is on a timer, and cannot be rushed or skipped. Second, you will frequently be redirected between runs to a screen giving you an option to watch a game trailer in return for 100 gears. Both of these interruptions have more than once caused me to simply quit the app and do something else. When you die in an endless runner, getting immediately back into the action is hugely important to avoid pushing players into the frustration zone. Holding us hostage by making us watch a countdown timer or a game trailer is not the way to our hearts. At least give us the chance to throw down some money to turn this kind of stuff off. I will often jump at the chance to turn a freemium title into a premium one, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

Graphics

As endless runners go, Gear Jack Black Hole is one of the better-looking ones. Because it's a side-scroller, its inherently 2-D, but the developers worked hard to bring these two dimensions alive with smooth animations, varied backgrounds, and super creative ways to die.



Sound

The sound effects and music of Gear Jack Black Hole are first-rate. If you can get past the first jarring seconds of the game without muting it, you will be rewarded with a wonderfully manic soundtrack, and varied sound effects.

In-App Purchases (IAPs)

You can buy both gears and shurikens with real money. Gears will allow you to upgrade your talents; and unlock clothing, characters, and stances. Shurikens will allow you to continue a run after you die.

Conclusion

Although I found myself returning again, and again to Gear Jack Black Hole, I also found myself irritated with the obtrusiveness of its freemium nature. There's a fantastic endless runner in here. I just hope they decide to tweak the interface a bit so it doesn't get between me and my game quite as much.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics: - 4 - Enjoyable and varied pseudo-3D graphics in a 2D horizontal runner helps keep the game fresh.
Sound: - 4 - Great music and effects, although I wish they'd turn down the volume for the first few seconds of each run. It's much more jarring than the rest of the game.
Controls: - 5 - Three buttons (jump/duck/walk) means you won't be fumbling as you play.
Gameplay: - 4 - A first-rate endless runner, brought down a notch by overly zealous in-game freemium marketing tactics.

Playing Hints and Tips:

Don't watch your runner; watch what's coming. Sometimes obstacles don't so much scroll into view as they appear right in front of you. Don't chase every gear! Some of them are deployed so as to entice you to jump where you shouldn't be jumping, or stand when you should stay tucked/rolling.

App Facts:

Developer: Crescent Moon Games
Release Date: May 2, 2014
Price: Free with various in-app purchases
Buy App: Gear Jack Black Hole

Reviewed by Tom Slayton









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