Gauge is so simple you may think you're missing something at first, and the supreme confidence it projects in its minimalism only furthers the confusion. From high up in its ivory tower, it is laughing at you. It is playing mind games. Can you control the gauge? It seems easy enough.
It is actually quite easy, conceptually. No matter which of its three game modes you choose (all offering their own interesting limitations), the titular gauge is a line you control by pressing down on it. Doing so moves the line towards the end points on either side of the screen. You can think of this as a stage curtain opening from either side, albeit in a chic, slightly abstract way. The closer you get to those end points, the higher your score. If your gauge hits the edge, you lose a life.
Ideally you want to quickly tap on the screen to keep your gauge between the two dotted points that mark the area just before the edge, since this bolder, riskier move nets you more points. It's a weird idea in its straightforwardness. While you balance the gauge's position your score will ramp up as the backgrounds shift and move. You fall into a trance from the single electro track and the spare art direction. At this point you still don't really "get" Gauge.
The longer you manage to keep your gauge in that sweet spot, the more lives you get, and the faster two glowing points near the centre of the screen will appear. They're labelled "Get", and it's almost a taunt in the same way the game passive-aggressively mocks you when you lose. Letting your gauge drop back towards the middle (watch out for that inner edge) to hit these points temporarily gives you a second gauge, and this is where things get really interesting.
The second gauge appears within the first; it's smaller and runs at a different speed. Even once you figure out that you need to get both gauges to graze the outer points (same as before) you don't feel like you entirely have control over the situation. The switch is psychological, moving from confusion to acceptance before landing at addiction. And now you have the insanity of balancing out each gauge's difference speed, leading to a frantic back-and-forth as your right and left thumbs alternate tapping to raise one or both.
Like a cruel ghost in the machine, Gauge starts laying the distractions on thick now. Not content to allow you sanctuary in a stabilized mental space - the higher and faster your score climbs, the more on edge you get - the backgrounds start to strobe, flashing pictures of women, obscuring your view, asking you odd questions or jumping the screen around at random intervals. It's exciting and somehow unnerving all at once. (You have to worry about dropping one gauge down every so often to get another second gauge power up, too.)
The stress that Gauge conjures from such a devious design economy is impressive, and when you glance at the dizzying speeds on your combo counter with two gauges activated, it's a scary thrill. How long can you last? Of course if you've gotten this far you know how pointless that question is; there's no going back now.
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