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iPhone  header logo

Gem Keeper

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

Rough diamond

Product: Gem Keeper | Developer: NCsoft | Format: iPhone | Genre: Tower defence | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0.3
Gem Keeper iPhone, thumbnail 1
The well-known philosophical duo Hall and Oates once sang about a man-eater – a woman who captivated men with her looks and charm only to chew them up and spit them out. "Oh-oh, here she comes", they crooned, "ooh, the beauty is there, but a beast is in the heart".

So it is with Gem Keeper. Load it up and one of the first things you’re likely to notice is its charming, vibrant visual style. The menus and loading screens are adorned with gorgeous cartoon art, and the game itself is all cutesy structures and cuddly-but-villainous enemy hedgehogs.

But actually play the game for a bit and you’ll realise how at odds these charming visuals are with game design that can induce fits of blinding white-hot rage.

You ain’t gonna get too far

As the title suggests, the aim of the game is to hang on to some gems, in a tower defence setup that has you defending your glittering horde against enemies that rush towards you along a fixed path.

At the start of each level you have five gems to protect. Each enemy can only take one, and once they have it they have to escape with it.

It sounds easy, and sometimes it is. You’ll be placing turrets and cannons with the utmost strategic care, taking great satisfaction as your considered arrangement of defences sees off another wave of enemies with apparent ease.

Then, some new enemy type will appear on wave 19, waltz past all of your assembled firepower, and steal a bunch of gems. It’s frustrating, especially since levels often last around ten minutes, and the game offers no guidance on how to defeat these seldom-seen gem snatchers. All you can do is load up the level again, and guess at a different tactic.

Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up

Or you could start the level again on a lower difficulty setting. Thankfully, you choose your difficulty at the start of every level rather than at the start of the game, so if a particular encounter in the lengthy campaign is giving you trouble, you can always tackle it on an easier difficulty rather than see your progress falter.

The campaign, or Adventure mode, is a collection of 30 levels split into three distinct themes – Forest, Ice, and Mine. It may not be the most inspired selection of backdrops, but the presentation is simply lovely throughout, and it’s a real pleasure to battle crocodiles in striped shirts rather than a bland assortment of aliens or mutants.

Gem Keeper’s sound is just as polished and just as jolly as its visuals, with a selection of relentlessly jaunty tunes to accompany the action and a main theme capable of lodging itself quite firmly into your brain. Even your arsenal sounds the part, with machine gun rattles and cannon booms nicely punctuating your assault on the local animal population.

Oh-oh here she comes

Gem Keeper’s novel addition to the tower defence formula is that it allows you to place your defences on rails, so you can always move your towers around with a swipe of the finger. On some levels this works very well, as you deftly reposition your defences to handle new enemies, or to focus fire on a powerful threat to your gems.

It also adds a little more interactivity to proceedings, giving you something to fuss over on the more sedate levels. Similarly, some enemy types can stun your towers, meaning they’ll require a tap from you to reactivate them.

It’s a neat idea, adding a little player involvement to the well-worn tower defence template, but when you hit one of the game’s difficulty spikes these innovations quickly become irritations.

In the face of stiff opposition, being expected to place, upgrade, reactivate, and move towers is simply too much. Add to that the game’s occasional failure to register your touchscreen commands and you have a recipe for aggravation, as levels turn into unmanageable flurries of sliding turrets and profanity.

She’s a maneater

When Gem Keeper isn’t trying its darndest to give you a stress-induced ulcer, it’s a joy. Its armoury has variety, its environments are vivid, and its enemies are charmingly daft. And, when you’re nimbly sliding a machinegun turret around in pursuit of a gem-thieving squirrel, it’s just impossible not to love.

Meanwhile, when your input doesn’t register while a particularly hardy turtle is escaping with your last gem, it’s impossible to remain calm.
Gem Keeper
Reviewer photo
James Nouch | 8 November 2011
Gem Keeper’s wonderful presentation and rock-solid fundamentals are undermined by a difficulty level that veers all over the place, but this is still a polished and enjoyable tower defence experience
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