If you love a good empire-building game, but have grown a little tired of dragons, fantasy villages and copy-pasted game mechanics, then I can sympathize with you. As someone who's reviewed more than his fair share of these money-hungry games in 2012, it can become hard to tell one from another. Yet I've found myself strangely drawn into the futuristic, robotic world of Gizmonauts.
It's probably easier to begin with the features that are familiar about the game. It contains many of the standards of the empire genre: buildings create units, which earn money over time, which allows you to create more buildings, and so on. There are also special gems that you can purchase to speed up building times, as well as a handful of currencies to balance within your economy. The draw and sell here is apparent and familiar enough.
The difference though is in the pacing of your progression through the game, and it's a sense of progression that owes far more to the likes of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes than to the typical fantasy empire-building game that perpetually keeps one eye on your wallet. The interplay of economies is woven in a way that cares more about player enjoyment than the profits from the cash store as you gradually expand your empire, buy new robot types, and put them to work.
As with many of these games you can grow "food" to level up your robots, who will then of course generate more money for you in return. You can even customize your robots and create hybrid types. All told, there's a very satisfying balance of economies that doesn't punish you for your progress, and while you could of course get ahead of the game faster via the cash store, it's equally satisfying to simply let your world evolve at its own pace.
It's true that there are occasional, abrupt halts in your progression, and there are times when you'll have to play another game while you wait for Gizmonauts to catch up with your ambitions, but it crucially doesn't feel like a greedy game. Perhaps it's just cleverer than most in this regard, but I'd like to believe otherwise.
It's also impossible not to fall in love with the style and character of Gizmonauts. Your WALL-E-esque robots whizz around performing their duties, from those who bustle away in the mine-shafts, to the entertainment droids who will dance and perform on the stage you've built. Outstanding too is the soundtrack that will keep your head bobbing away even when progression slows down.
The game has its moments where a little love and attention could have gone a long way. You're sporadically given missions to complete, but very early on in the game you'll be asked to visit a friend's settlement and gift them a gem. The things is, once we arrived we could see no option to actually gift it, so instead we randomly pottered around back home until we'd unlocked another objective to focus on.
Gizmonauts doesn't reinvent this particular genre wheel of gaming. It unashamedly offers up something you're likely already familiar with, but it does so in a package that's surprisingly refreshing, charming and loveable. Impatient gamers, or those who eye freemium gaming with suspicion will not be converted, but those with a passion for this particular type of slow-burning gameplay will be pleasantly surprised.
What's Hot: A truly charming freemium game that takes the sting out of the usual empire-building experience.
What's Not: Beyond its visuals and tuning, it's not an innovative game by any means.