Name: Gravity Ghost
Format: Mac / Linux / PC (Tested)
Genre: Arcade / Platform / Puzzle
Developer: Ivy Games
Year of Release: 2015
Gravity Ghost is an interesting title for several reasons, one of the first and most obvious reasons is that the developers tout it as 'a game that soothes your senses.' Normally as gamers we are used to games that challenge us, half the time I'd say we're paying to be punished severely by our machines. We get a new game and then we crank up the difficulty to the highest setting so that we can get those achievements. Then we brag to all those that will listen about how great and superb our skills are. Gravity Ghost goes against that as there is no dying, you can't kill anything, and there is no way to fail a level sending you back to the start to try again. You may be wondering where is the challenge and why should you play this then?
Well I'll tell you all that, after all that is what reviews are for, but for now I think I'll tell you that designing a game where you can't fail and can't die is not easy. Think about this dear reader, you have to design each single level in the game to have something new to keep the interest of the player yet they can't fail the level, meaning something can't launch that the player can miss and ruin their chances of completing the level requiring a restart. This takes some great design-work on the part of the developers, it also makes for a more relaxing game where you get to engage with the characters, sit back and enjoy the story and play without any anger or frustration. We did get into gaming to unwind after all, do you really want to come home from a bad day at work to be pummeled into submission by your games on top of everything else?
Gravity Ghost is made by developer Ivy Games who is funding the game from their own savings, this isn't your average by the numbers developer behind this one. There is no bean counter, no mean cigarsmoking suits and no cut-back content to sell to us at a later date. Ivy Games has taken the old school approach which is to release a fully featured product made by a team that loves games who are funding it because they love games and wanted to do something different. This shows too as the game boasts a dynamic soundtrack from the same composer behind FTL: Faster than Light, features Keyboard, Mouse as well as Controller support, hand painted graphics and over 100 levels of gameplay along with over 25 minutes of story that is fully voiced and animated. Yes, what we have here on paper is quite a complete release indeed that is available for PC (both Windows and Linux) or Mac.
In Gravity Ghost you play Iona the ghost as she searches for her lost best friend the Ghost Fox. Along your travels you will be exploring a shattered galaxy and rescuing survivors. That's the story; it is a short simple one that gets straight to the point. Installation was pain-free, a simple click on Steam and before too long the game was launching, it had already set itself to the correct resolution, recognised my connected 360 wireless controller and was ready to be played.
The first thing I noticed when the game started running were the visuals, Ivy decided to go with a hand painted look for the graphics both for the levels and the cut scenes which are just gorgeous, the game world is bold, colourful, vibrant, the design is beautifully realised and the game simply looks the part. Not to be outdone by the lush visual style the second thing that grabbed me was the sound, the game has some decently acted characters that play throughout the cut scenes and the sound effects suit all the action well. After starting the game it throws you straight into a level and when I saw the little globe planets that you can run around instantly Mario Galaxy came to mind. The Mario Galaxy thoughts were still there when I saw that you had to collect a star to open the door to the next level and a certain amount of stars to unlock sections. This however is not your traditional platformer, instead of traps, enemies aplenty and end of world bosses you simply have levels that are filled with various obstacles that combine to make puzzles to solve. The game finds you flying around the worlds and jumping from planets to reach your goal which is to locate and figure out how to get the star which unlocks the door to complete the level.
This is superb as the levels are designed in a way to make you think, while also throwing something new towards you as time goes on. One of the highlights for me is a time puzzle; no it isn't a timer counting down like you would think, but you have some gears to set up a specific way to trigger the exit of the level. The game also gives you new powers throughout your time playing that you can use to solve levels. One of the earlier powers allows you to convert planets to water, the water based planets allow you to go right through them. Running around the level simply causes the surface of the planet you're running on to change once you have the appropriate power. As you play the game you gain more powers with loads of elemental powers to discover which can be switched at any time on the fly by simply using the bumper buttons on the controller. The fact that the game gives you powers and throws you into situations where you have to use them to reach your goal keeps the level of interest up.
A particular favourite of mine are the maze levels which finds you figuring out how to get an object which follows you out of the maze by moving around on the outside, this takes some planning and getting used to, but with practice you'll find yourself in perfect control of the proceedings at all times right until you manage to complete the maze. You also gain new abilities in addition to the magical powers, early on in the game one of the first abilities you get is to add weight to the character when orbiting, allowing Iona to fall faster. The powers along the way include the ability to jump again while orbiting or to float instead of falling as well as the ability to dash for a burst of speed. Special mention must also go to the implementation of magic, rather than having a bar that depletes as you use your magic powers Gravity Ghost instead uses the character's hair. As you traverse the various levels there are flowers laying around, when collected the flowers causes your character's hair to grow. As you use your magical powers the hair shortens, if it gets to a certain point then more flowers are required to perform any more magic. This is a nice touch that fits in beautifully with the game world rather than a boring old meter.
The controls are easy to grasp, tapping the 'A' button causes your character to jump, using the 'LB' or 'RB' button switches between the different magic powers and the triggers cause you to float or fall faster once you have acquired the right abilities. Iona is controllable with either the thumbstick or Dpad. For me the thumbstick was the preferred choice as the analogue nature of that method of control seemed to suit the action better. As you progress to the later levels there are more planets on the screen and objects which your character can orbit on, as you get close to a planet the planet itself gives off a subtle glow as a visual clue that it is the planet that you are currently locked onto. The bigger planets have a higher gravity field than the smaller ones and therefore a stronger pull if you are within their gravitational field. Not just a game then but a lovely learning tool as well.
As you play through the game and unlock sections some cut scenes are played, these show a little background on the characters you will meet and even convey a little emotion as they provide details on the past of the main character. They are done well and quite short so don't worry about being taken away from the action for too long. The game takes inspiration from a few games of the past although played in a 2D plane with the floating around there is definitely a touch of Nights in there. With the globes and the planets there is some Mario Galaxy and with the rescuing of animals, they've even added a slight little nod to the spiky blue one, Sonic.
So on the surface it all sounds magnificent, the game controls well, the visuals are wonderful and it has touches of classic titles before. It isn't all perfect however, while I enjoyed the voice acting used in the cut scenes, I have to say that the dialogue was a bit flat, the actors did as good a job as they could. However the dialogue just wasn't natural in the way it was written and this still shows in the delivery. The difficulty level may also be an issue for some as the game is very easy, after unlocking the later levels I was expecting the puzzles to ramp up a bit and stretch the old grey matter but they stayed easy throughout and when I gained new powers at times it felt almost like I was cheating.
Despite having so many levels as well, they aren't that long and it is possible to see all of them within the space of just a few hours. Having a short playing time is no bad thing if the levels are of good quality and thankfully the quality is excellent here. So what we have is an entertaining, playable and very good game with great artistic flair. It's a wonderful solo experience with no tacked on multiplayer and lots of levels to roam around in although it is a tad on the short side.
Overall 8 out of 10
Verdict:- Gravity Ghost plays well, has many great ideas implemented and a fantastic artistic style. The game will keep you playing from start to finish, however the ride ends leaving you wanting more.
Those looking for a different experience should definitely check it out though because even in the indie field which is famous for it's originality and freshness this is one of those 'Woah' moments of real ingenuity, design execution and above all else fun.
To know it's funded from the actual pockets of the developer as well is also a nice change from the usual and now saturated crowd funded area and this deserves great praise as well, it doesnt change the review score in anyway but I feel it deserves a solid mention.
Second Opinion:- Being something of a cult videogaming symbol myself I can completely connect with this game on every single level.
Sure the graphics look stunning, a mixture of childrens crayon drawings and that whole Mario Galaxy vibe but games with fantastic looks can still suck if the control and the gameplay is not right, thankfully this is one of those moments when everything fuses together to form a really special moment. Ticks all across the board here!
I've heard a few people make bold statements such as videogames are indeed a genuine form of art and even though I already agreed Gravity Ghost is one of those pin up poster child moments where you can point to a game and simply say 'See, told you!' Like anything that's special it draws you in, holds your attention perfectly and in a good way assaults your senses with wave after wave of joy overload. Today is a good day to be alive!
I tend to think that all the really great games leave you wanting more, hence the term itself of wanting even more of the good thing you just had and whilst I agree it is on the short side I feel this is actually it's strength. It walks into the room, slaps you round the face, kisses you to the point you find it difficult to think straight then leaves in a flash causing you to instantly miss it.
If this was on a Nintendo system with Miyamoto's name all over it then it walks into a million homes, that's the level of achievement here.
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10