Gears is a Study of Mechanic Art

Rolling-ball games, with their single control and simple purpose are another genre perfect for mobile platforms, though it can be hard to stand out with much distinction. That is not a problem faced by Gears an iOS game that marries Marble Madness and H.G. Wells. A gorgeous, easily understandable game, Gears ladles on the visual appeal while delivering compact gameplay that is swiftly learned and difficult to master.

The story setting up Gears is kind of trifling, but this kind of gameplay and visual luxury should need no justification. Set inside the workings of a giant, failing machine, your mission is to pilot a rolling robot ball safely over catwalks, through funnels, over conveyor belts and trampoline jumps and other steampunk-rendered equipment while you pick up "power gears" on the way to a timed-race finish.

Gears, although fundamentally a ball-roller, is also a very pleasing blend of checkpoint-racing (though the paths can branch) and top-down platforming, and broadly accommodating of all skill levels - though it gets a lot tougher after the first world of nine levels. Its easiest through hard modes all give you unlimited lives, with completion times ranging from infinite to very limited. "Brutal" difficulty gives you just one life and severely cuts your allotted time.

You have two control methods: A finger swipe anywhere will send your ball dashing in along the same angle from where it is, and fast dashes can supply enough momentum to zoom you off into the abyss. Reverse-swiping was very responsive and helped me stop on a dime after I'd built up too much speed.

The second method is not recommended. It's the accelerometer, the siren song of iPhone games development and something best reserved for racers. Here, holding the iPhone portrait style (long axis being vertical) makes it extremely difficult to steer the ball with precision. I played the iPhone 4 version. I assume the iPad version is more responsive. But the swipe controls are enjoyable enough that you're not missing anything by sticking with them.

The game supplies three themed worlds (with separate soundtracks) and nine levels set in each of them - fast enough that you can beat the game in a sitting if you're just trying to speed-run to the end, and varied enough to encourage replay for higher scores and full exploration of the levels. You've no doubt heard the roses thrown at Crescent Moon Games' feet for the game's visual style; the accolades are well deserved.

Gears is simple where it must be, richly detailed where it should be, and deeply replayable. Gears is too thoughtfully done to slap it with labels like "addictive" or "impulse purchase," but it will definitely appeal to those who have those expectations of the iPhone, as well as those who appreciate well-made games regardless of platform.

Gears [iTunes App Store]