So I’m beginning to come around. I’m starting to accept the iPhone/iTouch as a gaming platform to a certain degree. I still can’t say I want to see big titles along the lines of Mass Effect or Fallout 3 on it, but I think the smaller, casual style games definitely have a place on the device. That was made totally apparent to me after playing Kingdom of Gnester. I had been leaning toward picking up an iTouch for quite some time, but since I have several other iPods along with my Zune, I just couldn’t justify the expense. When the guys at Another Castle Studios asked if I would review their freshman title, my first thought was to say no. But, as I looked more into the puzzler/platformer hybrid, I really wanted to check it out. So I rang up my sister & asked to borrow her iTouch so I could give Gnester a run. That decision ended up being a double edged sword. On one hand, I had a ton of fun. On the other, my budget is now hurting for $200 as my decision to get an iTouch has just been bumped to the top of the list…
Kingdom of Gnester takes the basic Bejeweled type of puzzler & adds an on-rails platformer that you play at the same time. The story follows Prince Gnester, who’s just reached the point in his life where he needs to venture out & create his own kingdom. He won’t do this alone though, as like his father & grandfather before him, he will be able to harness the power of the Capacube. The Capacube is a magical item that is given to each generation of royalty, providing various powers like jumping, shooting, etc… Sure, it isn’t the most original story, but it provides a nice, unobtrusive backdrop to the real focus of the game: The gameplay!
If you find the “3 in a row” style of puzzle games a bit boring or too easy, then Kingdom of Gnester may be just for you. You start out with 10 seconds to start creating matches. Three in a row clears the gems & getting a certain number of matches unlocks different abilities based on the color of the gems. Green for jump, blue for shoot, so on & so forth. Once the clock has expired, Gnester starts his journey across the level. Sounds easy right? Nope. 10 seconds isn’t near enough time to make a lot of matches & there is no guarantee you’ll get the colors you need in time to avoid whatever pitfall Gnester is heading toward. However, you can continue to match gems while Gnester is cruising along, but it’s darn tough to watch both his exploits & the Capacube (the puzzle screen) at the same time.
Fortunately for our red bearded buddy, he has some help. Scattered throughout the levels are golden gnomes. These can be used to purchase upgrades at the merchant, like more time on the clock at the beginning of each level or a reduced amount of matches to get a certain ability. These upgrades can be quite expensive so replaying levels is a must. Of course, there are other opportunities to muster up some of the little statues. The Puzzle Mode lets you play with just the Capacube without the platforming element. As you make matches, you’ll be given more time on the clock & unlock coins that you need to gather up. Once you run out of time, all the coins will be traded in for gnomes. The other option is a Farmville-esq mini-game called Gnester’s Ranch. You have critters that need you to feed them so they can grow. As you do, you’ll gain coins that, just like the Puzzle Mode, will be traded in for more gnomes.
While more creatures can be purchased at the merchant, you’ll ultimately spend very little time at Gnesters Ranch. In a word: It’s dull. But, the Story & Puzzle modes are more than capable of balancing out the package. Attempting to guide Gnester as he jumps, ducks & shoots his way through each level can be quite frantic & bouncing over to the Puzzle Mode will help relax things a bit. As far as I can tell, the controls are spot on (remember, this is my first time gaming on a touch screen) & visually, it’s got the classic cartoony 8-bit aesthetic that will bring right back to your days of NES gaming. One thing I do look at with any portable title regardless of the platform is the amount of play time required for each session. To me, portables should allow for you to jump in for a quick 5 or 10 min session & then let you drop back out. Gnester fits that bill perfectly as each level is short & the game will save after each one you complete. With five different abilities, 30+ OpenFeint Achievements (which you can post on Facebook), boss fights, & a ton of levels, there’s a lot to do here. The kicker? It’s only $1.99. Seriously, for that price, you’ll get more than enough bang for your buck.