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Gel: Set and Match Gastronaut Studios, Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade, May 2009

Gastronaut Studios
$10 (800 MS points)
What gamers want and what they're given rarely match up. The title Gel: Set and Match is a title that really seems to be running around to be a bunch of different things. In its look and feel, it's like a Super NES or original GameBoy game done on fantastical hardware. Its characters are simultaneously awesome and creepy, looking more than a little like a character from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Its gameplay is simple: move around some colored blocks into a cluster and they vanish. It's like bowling meets Kwirk or another similar 1990 portable puzzler, easy to pick up, a lot of fun, and, in places, genuinely frustrating.

For everyone that says "they don't make them like they used to," again, yes they do and here it is.


It's pretty simple-- walk around, pick up a block, set it down somewhere. The game wants you to match up several of a color, and when you do, it lights up and starts to melt. Any other similarly colored blocks that it touches during this period will also melt, which leads to some interesting strategies like throwing a block past a group so that it blinks, and then hits another colored group of blocks. There's a lot of cleverness built into this idea, although it can be a tad frustrating in places.

Later levels include other elements, like certain blocks requiring a light shined on them to be manipulated. You get some mirrors to play with, and it works pretty well. It's a by-the-numbers 1990s puzzler, which is quite refreshing on a console in 2009 that's aimed at people that want to relive WWII or zombie outbreaks.

Story? No.

The game features a player and spectators all made up of this neat race of anteater-like people. The in-game tutorial doesn't give them a story, they're simply there, and you need to push around blocks of gel. Back in the day, there were princesses to rescue, orphanages to save, rivals to spite. This game asks you to solve puzzles simply because they are there, which is a little unusual in this era of cut scenes and action figure tie-ins.

Graphics & Sound

Graphically it's pretty great. The characters are animated nicely and rather charming, and the blocks of gel wiggle and wobble and generally look, feel, and sounds like a cartoonish gelatinous mass. The music, while bouncy and appropriate to the game, isn't particularly catchy, although it's not like a lot of game music is these days. The toxic sludge and candy-like detail in various stages give the game its life, so if you were to play with the music off and your stereo playing the music of your choosing, you probably won't be missing much.

The Multiplayer and other modes

The game sports a number of levels that require more than one player, and having a second set of eyes really does make the game a little more fun. You'll feel like less of an idiot. A special time attack mode has you chased by a large bulldozer-like vehicle, which causes the game to scroll from left to right and, as expected, you do not want to get in its way. These extra modes add to the game but the core game of "solve the puzzle, go on to the next puzzle" is the main reason to pick this one up.

Is it worth buying?

The only thing wrong with Gel: Set and Match is its timing. In 2009, the Xbox Live Arcade service has incredibly complicated, innovative, and engaging games based largely on existing intellectual property, so when something comes up that's merely charming and fun, it gets lost in the shuffle. If you remember things like Boomer's Adventures in Asmik World, Kwirk, or The Adventures of Lolo, on some level, Gel should appeal to you. This is a great game to grab some people and play around the TV set, and it showcases a surprisingly retro sensibility. It's worth the $10, but given what else $10 can get you on this service, you may want to hold off for a sale on this one. It's no knock against the game, it's just when you can get ninja turtles or mega men or bubblegum-spitting dinosaurs, it's hard to say that this is going to be the finest purchase possibility on the platform.

If you've played everything else on your must-play list, this is a great puzzler to have around for a rainy day.

--Adam Pawlus
October 26, 2009

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Xbox 360
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