Gearheads: Quick Update

I’ve played Gearheads a little more, but I can’t honestly say I’ve made any progress in the “One-Player Tournament” mode. This isn’t the sort of game that saves your progress. It’s the sort of game that keeps a high score list. It gives you a limited set of lives for each session, and expects you to start over whenever you run out — a play pattern already antiquated in 1996, when even the fading coin-op games let you buy your way past death. You don’t have to start from the very beginning of the sequence, mind you. You can start at level 1, 13, or 25. (This is part of why I think there are 36 levels, something not actually stated in the docs.) I’ve been starting at level 13, and haven’t yet made it to 25 from there. I suppose it might be worth it to start at level 1 for the sake of accumulating extra lives if you’re not just doing a practice run, but at the moment, practice runs is all I do.

Every third level is a special one, where you can use only one type of toy. (This is the other part of why I think there are 36 levels: that’s exactly enough to have one special level for each of the game’s 12 toys.) The opponent also has only one toy type, which might be the same as yours or might be a different one, depending on the level. These special levels are a little puzzle-like — there’s always some specific tactic that will let you pull ahead, but depending on the toys, it might require confrontation or avoiding confrontation, winding up your toys fully or only enough to get them across the screen. Still, there are only so many possibilities to try out, and once you’ve found something that works, you can just remember it for the next time you play that level. Generally speaking, the special levels are a relief.

The regular levels are harder. They give you a level-specific set of four toys, but the opponent’s toys seem to be randomized. You can’t memorize a per-level successful strategy when you’re facing a different enemy every time you play the level; you have to learn to be reactive, to use the tools available to combat whatever happens to come up. Usually the opponent releases a bunch of toys of the same type in sequence — I could probably find patterns by counting them, if I need to go that deep. So there are opportunities to see what the opponent is doing and counter it — sometimes launching one toy on your side can counter a whole bunch of the opponent’s. But on the other hand, sometimes the opponent has a toy that I just plain don’t know how to counter with the ones I have, and I just have to hope that the random number generator will be kinder next time. I’ll go into more detail in my next post.


2 Comments so far

  1. Thorin N. Tatge on 4 Aug 2023

    Hello hello! I might have imagined Gearheads was a completely forgotten game, which is a shame since I was really into it as a teen, and I don’t think one can play it anymore unless you have the original software AND something like the original hardware to run it on. I’m curious what OS you’re using.

    I did in fact make it to level 36, after a lot of work! So, if you’d like, I could tell you whether the game does in fact have 36 levels. I can almost remember the order of the special bonus levels, too…

  2. Thorin N. Tatge on 4 Aug 2023

    I agree that the special (bonus) levels are a relief, and I also liked their unique art. I don’t remember ever seeing patterns in the sequence of toys the opponent released, though I couldn’t promise they don’t follow a pattern. I really liked the strategy of adapting to changing situations on the board, like how crowded the middle is and whether there are dead toys to wind up with Handy, and when the portals or whatever are temporarily in your favor, letting you score a bunch of fast points.

Leave a reply