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Review: Geon: Emotions

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Geon: Emotions is a puzzle battle game from Strawdog Studios, published by Eidos Interactive. Its take is rather different from the standard “Line up dropping/appearing objects faster than your opponent” competitive puzzler, in that players are often competing in the same field and can directly affect each other. Essentially, Geon is competitive Pac-Man in a sense. Players aren’t competing to eat the same dots (emotes), rather to eat a mirrored set on the opposite side of the board from their opponent. In another nod to the revered classic, there are “Power Pellets”, known here as Powerballs. Here some variety comes in, as each different type of ball grants a different single-use special ability. There are eight types, most with offensive abilities but some which protect or enhance your ability to collect emotes.

Some qualification is in order at this point. Beginning a new game, players choose from one of eight different “Emotions,” simply represented as colored cubes. Each Emotion – the selections are Bliss, Rapture, Fear, Courage, Passion, Envy, Melancholy, and Rage – has an affinity to one type of the aforementioned Powerballs, making that particular Powerball worth saving for a really opportune time. The power-ups are fairly useful for the most part, including abilities like smashing the board and causing your opponent to lose some emotes if s/he is too close to where you hit (needless to say you can see each other through the board in normal circumstances). Emotion cubes don’t use Powerballs immediately upon picking them up; they’re stored and triggered by pressing X. There’s an advantage to having one stored, too – you move a little faster. Powerballs can also be dropped rather than used, and dropping one on top of another creates a Super Powerball with unique effects, typically something negative on the opponent’s side of the board.

All this just to eat dots? There’s another layer as well. Once enough emotes have been collected, the player’s Cube becomes “charged,” visibly glowing with associated sound effects. At this point you move to an edge of the board, press the jump key – yes, you can jump, it avoids some attacks – and flip over to the opponent’s side. You can’t collect emotes or Powerballs here, but you do have to proceed to the marked Goal zone in (usually) the rough center of the board to score a point. In most games, first to five wins.

If the game sounds simple, that’s because it is; yet there is more happening than might be immediately apparent. Clever use of the power-up abilities can swing the tide of a game (the defensive ability is obviously very important even if your Cube isn’t the one with an affinity for it). Jumping, as stated, can be a worthwhile dodge. Too, as players explore the more intricate competition boards (there are a lot) more permutations show up. Some boards have moving platforms that detach and swing to another section of the board before reattaching; others have loops, slides or other 3-dimensional sections that lock the player’s Cube into a fixed traversing animation. Most of the later ones have red walls in certain areas which prevent a Cube from hopping over to the opponent’s side. Since the goal is to gather enough emotes to charge up and score goals before the opponent does, such variations do affect the ways you can successfully play the game. There are also multiplayer game variants which adjust the rules slightly, though the base nature of the game remains.

This is Geon’s biggest potential weakness: it relies on a somewhat particular and quirky set of game mechanics for all of its modes. A player’s baseline enjoyment of the core product is really the sole determinant of how much Geon will be enjoyed, because the variations are all essentially minor. There is actually a lot to do in Geon in terms of unlocking new boards and minor minigame variations, plus the obligatory Achievements (the requirements for some of which are a bit abstruse), but you’re basically doing the same thing in slightly different places, or with a Cube with a different affinity.

Geon’s presentation does deserve mention. This is actually quite a pretty game. It’s visually simple, but not badly designed for the most part (the Obscure effect, the affinity of the Fear cube, is pretty annoying to look at) and keeps the eye relatively engaged. Sound is simplistic too, generally aiming for a trance-techno feel that has unique variations for each Cube. Sound effects are exactly what you’d expect: Someone fiddling around with keyboard effects, well-mastered and synced. They get the job done. For an XBLA game the production values are pretty strong.

What will make or break Geon to the potential buyer, however, isn’t the presentation but the core experience. This actually is a neat little game with some interesting rules, but the structured nature may get old for some players rather quickly. While by no means a bad game, nor as simple as it might seem, Geon is one specific thing done repeatedly. It’s enjoyable of itself, but I must recommend playing the demo thoroughly (which you should have done anyway if you didn’t) to see if it’s really worth your $10.00. While the price is somewhat understandable in light of the volume of design and production standards, the game might have sold better at $5.00. That said, check out that demo. It’s not bad, and if you’re an Achievement whore these are at least more worthwhile than some I can think of.

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