Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code
System: Steam (PC)
Release Date: 04/28/2023
In a world based off old myths and legends, Pandora has opened a cursed artifact, unleashing a monster of chaos! It is now up to her and a magical new friend to team up and battle across the land in order to seal up the chaos once more. Each character in this game has their own story mode, with their own set of stages and dialogue, but to be quite honest, none of the text here was translated all that well…
Gematombe sports a very colorful presentation, with a cast of characters that look ripped out of a cartoon show, and bright, colorful interfaces. The game in motion looks pretty good, and each character even has their own cute loading screen animation.
On the other hand, the music is generally forgettable, and the narration for this game is a little strange, with the voice sounding like it was recorded at a far lower quality than the music, making it kinda awkward. Still, it gets the job done and none of the characters have their own voices anyway.
Gematombe is an interesting mix of two specific puzzle games; Breakout, with the whole brick breaking focus and having to make sure you catch the ball, and Puzzle Bobble, with how you aim the ball and shoot it. The main goal of a match is to either fully clear your board of all of its blocks, or crush the opponent by flooding their board so they’re overwhelmed. Each board consists of many gems of varying colors, and destroying those breakout style is the key to clearing them, with clusters of the same color being cleared at once if you build up a chain.
Generally, this core loop of battling CPUs is a decent premise, as it is incredibly satisfying to break twenty, thirty blocks at once and send waves of garbage over to your opponent. However, they can do the same to you, and each character has their own gimmick with the garbage they send, which, when combined with the unusually slow ball speed, can lead to the matches not feeling as frantic as they should be; indeed, most of my matches took several minutes due to the constant tug of wars going on, with one side nearly finishing their board only to get flooded by an incoming line at the last second, and the ball never, ever gaining more speed as the matches dragged on.
I should also note that at first, as I tend to try and do for reviews on PC, I gave Gematombe a spin on my Steam Deck. To my shock, I dealt with constant framedips (where the game felt like it was in slow motion), eaten inputs where the ball refused to shoot, and buggy controls when playing on the default linux option, with proton versions outright crashing the game upon bootup. I was pretty nervous that this entire game was buggy from that first experience, to say the least, but luckily I got it working fine on my laptop, and yeah, on a normal computer this game feels and plays like you expect, with a mousepad being ideal to control the game due to the paddle nature of the gameplay. Still, for now don’t get too excited about playing this on Deck, and hopefully that problem will be patched later.
Anywho, you have a traditional Story Mode to take on, where you marathon through the other fighters to see each character’s story. The plots in these are fairly standard, but each character at least gets their own unique sequence of foes, and you can retry any fight you fail as much as you wish. There are multiple difficulties to choose from, and the CPU can get pretty ferocious even on the easiest setting, but sadly, even a mean CPU doesn’t solve the fact that your ball speed is way too slow, even in the heat of battle. It helps for accurate shooting, sure, but it’s also a huge factor in why these matches can last 3 minutes or more, and feel like a stalemate. I do wish upping the difficulty or having a certain amount of time go by would increase the speed of the whole game, as that would make things a lot more exciting compared to a smarter AI.
You also have a helpful tutorial, which helps explain how the general flow of a VS match works, an endless practice mode, and then a Survival mode, which takes the VS Com aspects and really ramps them up with a gauntlet of foes, but even this doesn’t do much to improve the generally slow pace, since it never gets faster as you go on. Even with Survival being a bit more frantic and fun than the traditional Story mode, the pacing is still poor enough to lead to long stalemates, which is a shame as the core idea is still very fun, with immense satisfaction when you manage to chain a bunch of blocks together and send them to the opponent right before they would have cleared the stage.
Still, there aren’t too many characters to even choose from, and playing for hi-scores isn’t really a thing here either, since the scoring system here doesn’t really mean much or is kept track of all that well. There’s no online versus of any kind that I could find, which is a big shame, but at least local play is an option, and this definitely has potential to be tons of fun if the speed could get worked out.
In conclusion, Gematombe is a really clever blend of two puzzle genres, and in concept, it works out remarkably well, with a lot of addictive potential. Sadly, the pacing of the game is a really big issue, and even when the difficulty is cranked up, the game never feels as frantic or speedy as it should have been. I feel like if this game style was played in say, a Super Turbo style of speed, I’d be singing a lot more praise for this competitive brick breaker and go back to it a lot, but as it stands now, Gematombe has a long way to go and is rather content lite.
Unfortunately, for a game like this I was also hoping to enjoy it on the Steam Deck, and seeing it have performance problems in linux mode is just utterly baffling. I was able to play Gematombe enough for the sake of review though, as I used my laptop for the majority of coverage. Hopefully this game gets patched for the deck soon, since otherwise it’s a fairly competent brick breaker that can be real fun with a friend, even if it doesn’t really do much else and struggles from slow, drawn out fights. I truly hope the dev manages to learn to awaken the turbo potential this matchup has to offer.
I give Gematombe a 6 out of 10.