REVIEW: ‘Gears POP!’ is Not the Gears You Know, But it is a Mobile Delight (iOS)

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Gears POP! Title

Gears POP! is a bizarre concept for a game. Developed by The Coalition and Mediatonic and published by Xbox Game Studios for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 PC, this mobile tower defense game is exactly as its name suggests: a Gears of War – Funko POP! game. The notion may seem odd at first. The dark, brooding machismo of the Gears series is an odd coupling for the cartoony bug-eyes of the plastic collectibles. It is odd, but it also has some charm and luster.

Gears POP! is a PvP tower defense game where players compete in two lanes to capture barriers in an advance towards the enemy outpost. As parallel barriers are captured, players can drop their “pins,” the attacking characters, further up the arena and closer towards the enemy outpost. Games last two and a half minutes. The objective is to take down first the turrets defending either lane, then the enemy hero’s encampment to secure victory. One point is given for the destruction of each objective, and if the match ends in a time-out, the winner is decided based on points.

Each pin requires a certain amount of power points to use. Power generates automatically over time, and at double speed later in each match. Types of pins include all your favorite Gears of War heroes like Marcus, Cole, and Carmine, different types of grenades, and generic soldiers from both sides of the war that might excel in, perhaps, capturing barriers, distracting enemies, or long-range or attacks. At regular intervals, both sides also gain access to a single use of their “ultimate” attacks, which can do serious damage but have to be placed strategically anywhere on the map for maximum effect.

The game overall has a decent aesthetic. Its interface is very bright and easily navigated. The little chibi sounds the pins make when you drop them is cute but in a gruff sort of way. For as odd an idea of making a Gears of War – Funko POP! game is, the aesthetic somehow manages to feel like it fits nonetheless. Perhaps this is a credit to the marketing that has gone into this particular Funko license, or, perhaps it is the overall ubiquity of Funko POP! in popular culture for the last several years. Either way, it just works.

Gears POP! gameplay

As a free-to-play title, Gears POP! is the type of game where players boot up a match whenever they want and can play endlessly should they choose. Each match contributes to the tier the player is placed in, which in turn, determines what new pins they have access to unlocking. However, unlocking new pins requires opening chests. Players can only hold four at a time. They are timed to open over any number of hours depending on the rarity. They can be opened early for the cost of crystals, the game’s single currency that costs real-world money.

The trick to making a successful free-to-play game is making sure there is enough incentive to keep players coming back all day and day after day. Gears POP! does a decent job of this. Aside from the constant incentive to play versus in advancing tiers to unlock more pins, there is also Horde mode. This is a cooperative mode where, like in Gears of War, players face several waves of Locust. For every wave complete, players are rewarded with either pins or coins. Collecting duplicates of the same pin eventually allows the pin to be leveled up to increase its stats. Coins are the currency used to active a level-up. Leveling up pins also accumulates player experience. Upon leveling up your player, turret and outpost health and attack power increase.

Unfortunately, the Horde mode requires players to join crews and play with crew members. Unless players make crews with their friends and coordinate play, it can be difficult to ensure that other crew members are online to set up a horde match. Push notifications can be turned on for when a crewmate is looking to start a horde battle. However, there is no guarantee players will opt into notifications. Coins can also be used to purchase chests and pins from the in-game store, but since horde mode is the best way to accumulate them, the influx can stagnate quickly. The only way to acquire crystals though, without spending real money, is finishing the two daily challenges.

The incentives for returning to play repeatedly continue though. Every four hours, a win streak is activated wherein players can attempt to win as many matches in a row as possible. The more they win, the larger the reward is after the streak is broken. Gears POP! is also one of few games on iOS and Android with Xbox Live connectivity. The game can optionally be synced to an Xbox Live profile where achievements can be unlocked towards the rest of the Xbox profile. For achievement obsessed players like myself, this is all the incentive necessary to play this game repeatedly.

One of the achievements, “Seriously POP!” is in the style of the rest of the series’ infamous “Seriously” achievements and requires playing many, many rounds of the game. Unfortunately, there are no in-game incentives tied to these Xbox achievements. This is a real lost opportunity. Providing currency or pins for unlocking achievements would have been an excellent incentive. Or, unlocking customization options for the frankly boring character customizer.

Overall, Gears POP! has none of the real hallmarks of a Gears of War game besides the characters and a horde mode. There is no good chainsaw action, no action reloading, and no dodge-rolling with shotguns. It will not likely fill the Gears of Wars specific hole in fans’ hearts as they await Gears of War 5. Yet, it is a delightful little mobile game that warrants at least some of your monthly data and cell phone battery power. While the game does suffer from some connectivity crashes in the menus, those darned Funko POP! bobbleheads are still just irresistible.

Gears POP! is available now on iOS, Android, and Windows 10 PC.

Gears POP!
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Gears POP! has none of the real hallmarks of a Gears of War game besides the characters and a horde mode. Yet, it is a delightful little mobile game that warrants at least some of your monthly data and cell phone battery power.  While the game does suffer from some connectivity crashes in the menus, those darned Funko POP! bobbleheads are still just irresistible.