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Game Info:

Gem Deeps
Developed by: Gemboi
Published by: Gemboi
Released: December 21, 2020
Available On: Windows
Genre: Action, Platformer
ESRB Rating: None available
Number of Players: 1
Price: $11.99

Thanks to Gemboi for sending us a review copy!

Gem Deeps is a short and focused action-adventure platformer. Over the five hours this game lasts, you will jump, dash and shoot fireballs at the villains that have stolen the gemstones from your village temple across 19 levels. The hand-painted art is certainly eye-catching, and perhaps this game’s best feature, alongside the soundtrack.

The backgrounds and decorations are very pretty and convincingly convey the alien nature of the caverns you explore throughout the game. The art style is what you might expect from a top notch indie game, but it does become a problem when enemy units get involved. The various lizard, beast, and plant enemies fit the art style, but plant enemies are quite dark and simply fade into the foliage and platforms. The soundtrack also does a fair job of conveying the danger and tension of exploring a vast underground network of caves, but it does get repetitive.

Gem Deeps is also quite light on moral issues. Violence involves killing various creatures, but bodies will quickly fade away upon death. A few dead skeletons appear throughout the game, with a single instance of “d*mn” found on a note in one of these bone piles. The main character wears a bikini, though of a tribal fashion rather than for accentuating her figure. The player fireballs and boss attacks are clear cases of fantasy magic, although the lore tablets suggest it might also be some high-end science. There’s no explaining away the summoned spirits as science though.

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the praise goes.

Gem Deeps
Highlights:

Strong Points: Cohesive visual identity
Weak Points: Bugs all over the place; tedious and unengaging combat;  zero-effort level designs; dull story
Moral Warnings: Killing fantasy creatures; one use of “d*mn”; tribal-wear bikini; fantasy magic; enemy bosses summon spirits

From the main menu, it started to become clear that the game's quality isn’t anywhere near what its trailer suggests. It's just a series of unfulfilled promises, like No Man's Sky was when it first released. For some inexplicable reason, navigating the main menu on an Xbox controller only recognises the D-pad to change items, and going into a submenu switches it up to only recognising the analog sticks. Button inputs were all sluggish, with a clear delay before the game responds. I started the game and found that my framerate went from a reasonable 38fps to an unplayable 10fps. I restarted and changed from fullscreen to window mode. Framerate fixed; clearly this is a fullscreen issue and not a hardware issue. Loading into a new level still took an unreasonable amount of time though, and the game window would freeze momentarily with each and every loading screen.

As mentioned, you’ll be jumping, dashing, and shooting fireballs – basic movements of the sort that you’d expect for action-platformers. These actions all draw from a common pool of stamina. It’s a promising seed for creating an engaging combat system, but that’s all it is – a seed of potential that was never expanded upon. The game recommends a controller, but there was significant input delay on my Xbox controller, so I ended up using the keyboard for better response times. There’s also a walljump ability that the tutorial mentions, but the level designs merely amount to an endless series of thin horizontal platforms. There are absolutely no actual vertical walls to properly use the walljump on, and when you do manage to contact the skinny sides of the platforms, the stuttered gravity and complete lack of animation and handling makes it very clear that the walljump is in actuality a bug disguised as a feature, and definitely not the closely related bug-turned-feature.

Much of the game is a long path of platforms devoid of any reason to stop and look around. I discovered that sometimes the lava at the bottom of the level doesn’t kill instantly, and happily ran around until I was out of the level boundaries. The level topology is essentially a simple maze. On occasion you’ll stumble across a platform bristling with enemies – a lair that must be cleared to retrieve a key to unlock the gate to the next part of the level. Along the way you’ll also collect shields which can be used for temporary protection from enemy shots, keys to open doors, and blue and red artifacts that can be traded with a rat-like shopkeeper for healing potions, more shields, or extra keys. In the later levels, there seems to be a few gates without a key, as if the game expects you to have pre-purchased the keys from the shopkeeper in preparation; if you haven’t, tough luck, you’ll have to restart from the beginning.

Gem Deeps
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 36%
Gameplay – 5/20
Graphics – 6/10
Sound – 4/10
Stability 2/5
Controls 1/5

Morality Score - 84%
Violence – 7/10
Language – 9/10
Sexual Content – 9/10
Occult/Supernatural – 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 10/10

Combat is really a test of patience rather than skill. On occasion you’ll find skill points to upgrade your combat abilities with damage upgrades, health regeneration, stamina regeneration, and shield duration. But your fireball attack remains weak in general. Enemies deal significant amounts of damage, and don’t have attack patterns that can be skilfully exploited as would be expected in a game with skill-based combat. I discovered very quickly that the AI is dumber than bricks. Standing at a distance is about the only viable way to fight. Tougher fights will provide a conveniently adjacent platform to stand on; enemies never leave their platform, so killing them is a simple matter of patiently hurling fireballs until they all keel over.

This strategy also exposed a major oversight with the tougher bosses – they block your attacks and are knocked back ever so slightly, but knock them back far enough and they can fall into the lava at the bottom of every level. This spawns the key in the lava, forcing a level restart unless you had the wisdom to purchase extra keys from the travelling shopkeeper (and frankly, the keys are the only thing worth buying from him). Overall, combat is an absolutely boring chore. I found it much more efficient to simply run past enemies since most keys can be obtained without fighting – the soundtrack changes when killing an enemy holding the key, so you always know which fights are mandatory.

The Steam store page promises a deep story, but it’s really not. All you’re doing is chasing after a fellow named Krong, the one who has stolen your village gemstone. The only plot development involves Krong’s various cronies reporting to each other about your progress through the caves. There are also ancient stone tablets with lore snippets scattered about the caves; these tablets fill in the backstory with a science fiction twist. Bad spelling and grammar litter the prose. Perhaps the cringiest bit of writing here is that the ending hints at a sequel, considering the generally dismal quality.

Gem Deeps is severely lacking in polish. It’s a shame the developer spent three years working on this game only to pop out this lackluster attempt. If the year were 2005, this could have been uploaded to Armor Games or Newgrounds as the middling-quality Flash game of a high school student’s term project. As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend this game even if it were free.

About the Author

Elvin Ong

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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