Overall Score 93%
There are two approaches to game development. One is to forge ahead with a brave new concept, never knowing if it will sell, risking numerous clones if it does, risking financial loss and obscurity if it doesn't. The other, far more common, is to be one of those numerous clones. There you have the advantage of knowing where you're going and avoiding the mistakes of the first game, and you can go all out with as many features as you like. The end result may be fair or foul, depending on whether one falls victim to that villain of development, the Feature Creep (a being I picture as rather like the Hooded Claw). But then there are those developers that can control this creature, using it for their own ends rather than their own destruction...
And so we have Turbogems, a reimagining of the old favourite, Columns. A collection of blocks in various colours lie at the bottom of the screen and strings of one to three descend down the screen. Match up rows, columns or diagonals of three or more the same colour to make them disappear. The bigger the matches, the better the score and the faster you complete the level. Score combos when the gems above fall into new matches to gain even more points. Complete enough matches and you move on to the next level. As levels go up, more matches are required to complete them and blocks fall faster. If they reach the top of the screen, the game is over.
But there's more to Turbogems than this. Much more. Take the basic concept and run with it - as levels go up, new block types appear and can be activated when matched. These include wildcard gems that match any colour, bomb blocks that explode (taking out those around them), blocks that remove whole rows or columns, blocks that remove all other blocks of that colour and blocks that cannot be matched. My favourite are the rare gems - if you match three of these, they trigger a meteor storm that smashes large numbers of blocks off the screen!
The most unusual aspect of Turbogems is that one plays with one's mouse. Use the mouse to move the falling blocks left or right, use the left button to slam it home or the right button to reorder the sequence of the blocks. The Escape key brings up a menu allowing you to quit the game and come back to the same level in the future. Couple this with three modes (two of which are unlocked after reaching sets level in the main game) that provide markedly different games - one which invites you to clear blocks from particular squares, and one which has you fill a particular pattern with no overlapping blocks (any overlaps need to be cleared by matching).
The graphics sparkle with a liberal application of polish. Block colours are all clearly different and they are a good size for the screen. The space theme, though utterly irrelevant to the game mechanic itself, adds style and atmosphere (and makes sense of the meteor pickup!) and I rather like the sense of progress when one "warps" to the next level. Sound too is impressive - different effects accompany different matches, with further bells and whistles for combos and so forth, and there are different backing tracks for the three game modes (though they start to get repetitive with continuous play).
Gameplay is padded out with a trick I've seen a few times now - bonus trophies are available for completing key events. These range from basic ones like X matches in a row and combo bonuses, through trophies for 10,000 matches and such, up to those for reaching level X in each (or even all) of the game modes. There's a trophy for collecting all the other trophies that declares you Master of the Universe. There are also game ranks to collect for different scores, and you can choose between any ranks you've gained in the past to display at the top of the main menu. I like all of this, though I am less fond of the way action is interrupted by a sudden swirl of rainbow colours and loud fanfares to tell me I've won another trophy - I'm busy matching, dammit!
Turbogems is one of the prettiest and most stylish Columns variants I've seen for a while now and I'm generally very impressed with it. I am struggling to find anything negative about it - clearly IronCode have worked hard to clear any bugs or balance issues and the end result is polished, professional and near enough perfect. Certainly this is something you can play in a spare half hour or for a whole afternoon if you wanted - the hard part can be stopping! All this said, you can't quit in the *middle* of a level. The Power Stacker game mode in particular can get frustrating because of this - I was playing one level for about 26 minutes trying to clear extra blocks or accidentally clearing ones I wanted to keep!
You often can't get a clear idea of how a game plays from a few screenshots, and the gameplay here is superb. Levels start off easy, build in complexity at a steady pace and before you know it, you're hooked on getting that trophy or reaching that level. Download the demo and see for yourself.
Keywords: turbogems review, ironcode software reviews, ironcode software games, turbogems scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.