|Platform(s)||Mac OS, Microsoft Windows|
Gearheads is a strategy video game released in 1996 by Philips Media for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. The player deploys wind-up toys in order to get them across an arena while attempting to prevent toys from crossing from the other side, and can play against the computer or another player. Single, customisable games can be played, or the player can play a series of games with set rules and a limited number of lives in a tournament.
The game was developed in 18 months, and focuses were the interaction of the toys as well as their attributes. Reception was mixed, with some reviewers praising the addictiveness and others criticising the sounds and artificial intelligence.
The game is played by releasing toys on an arena, with the goal of getting them to the other side, and prevent their opponent's toys from reaching the player's side. Toys are "charged" by waiting before release, and stop if they run out of energy. The toys are of different kinds (such as robots, Santa Claus, and magicians) with certain movement patterns and abilities such as destroying other toys or making them turn around. Some toys are primarily intended for offence, others defence. The player can switch between the available toys at any time. Once released, players have no direct control over them, and they do not belong to a player: a toy leaving the arena via the left side scores a point for the player on the right side and vice versa. The first player to score 21 points wins, unless he is only ahead by one point, in which case the game continues until there is a two-point difference between the scores. There is an unlimited supply of toys, and they are released on a row in the arena. Toys can be recharged by Handy, a glove toy.
There are four main arenas: kitchen, garden, frozen pond, and factory. The kitchen has no obstacles. The garden's main obstacles are bugs. The frozen pond's main obstacles are cracks in the ice which, if crossed over enough times, become holes that destroy toys that fall into them. The factory has obstacles such as conveyor belts, teleporters, and stoppers. Occasionally, a metal winding key will appear on one side of the arena. When crossed, a powerup is granted to the other player. Powerups include a rocket, being able to release toys from halfway across the arena, and the opponent being unable to do anything. Most powerups last only for a limited time.
There are two game modes: tournament and duel. In tournament, the player is assigned a selection of four toys and must defeat the computer-controlled opponent. Every three victories, there is a challenge in a special arena where the player must defeat the opponent with only one toy. A life is granted if won (the player starts with three). Duel is where the player can practise a game against either a computer opponent or another player. Which arena the game takes place in, the number of toy types allowed and which are used, the difficulty level, and whether powerups are available can be customised.
Gearheads was designed by Frank Lantz, Eric Zimmerman at Philips Media. The game was produced by Philips and R/GA Interactive. Art and animation were handled by Susan Brand Studios. The Windows and Macintosh versions were released in June 1996.
The game took 18 months to develop. Early in the design process, the designers were able to create new toys and tweak their attributes using a playable prototype. The prototype had menus that showed the statistics for each toy. Alterations took effect immediately, allowing the designers to see what effect a change would have even during a game. There was an iterative game testing process that assisted in balancing the game. An important aspect of the game's design was the interaction between the toys.
Due to the discovery of effective toy combinations, Zimmerman and Lantz coined the term "engine" to describe them. The engines were given names including Punching Roaches, Bomb Shield, and Perpetual Motion. Toy attributes were set to make certain engines possible, although most were discovered as development progressed. The artificial intelligence included engine-based heuristics so that it was aware of advantageous combinations. Engines were not written into the game's rules, but were playing patterns that arose from the toys' attributes that defined the toys. During the testing, Zimmerman and Lantz kept increasing the difficulty so the game would challenge them, and at one point made the game too difficult.
Gearheads received mixed reviews. Reviewers praised the addictiveness, visuals, and entertainment value but were conflicted on the sound and music.
The game's addictiveness was lauded by PC Zone, who said the game features the planning aspects of Tetris and plenty of options, including "bizarre" powerups. Another reviewer who found the game addicting was Computer Gaming World, who said it was due to its "eclectic cast of characters". These general opinions on the addictiveness were concurred with by Michael Bertrand of Gamer's Zone.
Steve Wartofsky of Computer Games Strategy Plus said that Gearheads is just what it claims to be: "a furious war of wind-up toys". This view on entertainment value was concurred with by Computer Gaming World, which described the game as "hilarious and addictive". Another publication which agreed was PC Team, whose reviewers called the game "great fun", and also liked the gameplay's facility. Garrett Rowe of The Irish Times echoed these sentiments in his belief that the multiplayer mode's fun factor was "endless and chaotic".
Critics thought highly of the graphics. PC Gamer's Dean Evans belief that they were "pretty" were concurred with by reviewers including Air Hendrix of GamePro (in a review of a SNES version), who said they were colourful and humorous,, Bob Strauss of Entertainment Weekly, and PC Team's reviewers, who said the game was "cute and well done". These sentiments were echoed by Victor Lucas of The Electric Playground, who described the game as "sweet as honey" and lauded the toys' animations.
Other compliments included Lucas's approval of the music as "perfectly suited" to the action, and the sound as "truly wonderful". He said was "immensely" impressed by the game. Gearheads was described by Garrett Rowe of The Irish Times as "unusual and original", and he also thought the game is "refreshingly different" from cloned games. Joystick's reviewers believed that Gearheads's concept was attractive for beginners.
Criticisms included Mike McGrath of Coming Soon Magazine's comments that the game is "far too mindless", and his description of the sound and music as "annoying".. Michael Bertrand of Gamer's Zone also criticised the sound and music as "repetitive", and also disliked the game only having four arenas. PC Gamer's Dean Evans believed that Gearheads has a "childish" nature and is "dull and overpriced".. Bob Strauss of Entertainment Weekly's criticism was the difficulty of controlling the game with a keyboard due to the speed of the action. Another complaint came from Air Hendrix of GamePro: he criticised the artificial intelligence as "moronic". Joystick's reviewers found the concept uninteresting for hardcore gamers and one reviewer was not optimistic about the game's life span. The inability to increase the size of the game board was cited as a fault by Génération 4.
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