It’s a bit hard to pin down Gravi in terms of where it stands as a game. Not just due to the style and approach it takes with an inventive mechanics system, but because it feels like it’s trying to be a more forgiving version of many hardcore platformers. Things like Kaizo Mario and, to an extent, I Wanna Be The Guy, the ones which are determined to make your life as absolutely painful as possible an capable of driving grown men to tears. This is because while it retains many of the complex patterns of instant death machines, rows of spikes and player manglers it lacks the frustratingly impossible aspects which force you to rage quit like strict time-limits and vast numbers of invincible enemies.
It seems like it’s trying to keep the best aspects of the frustratingly impossible platformers but limits their cruelty to make it available to a wider audience.
The story here is… I have no idea. It’s the first of a few problems with the preview version Paranerds.com was given: It’s not entirely complete. While there’s no mention of a story or outline of who you are in the opening, or even why you are in a huge killer facility, outros to each of the levels keep suggesting there is some kind of plot. Each referring to your continued efforts to escape “anti-Gravi”, an evil red version of your blue balled character Gravi, and to flee for your freedom. It’s a very small part of the game admittedly but it’s frustrating for it to only be half there or given any grounding to the setting.
The same unfortunately goes for awards and the store, at the moment “Coming Soon!” is the only thing listed there so we can’t comment upon either of those aspects either.
What can be commented upon is the quality of the gameplay itself which can be best described as additively frustrating. At just about every turn you’re going to die. You’re going to run into spikes, be incinerated, crushed by grinders, have your own muscle memory betray you and be obliterated repeatedly. Usually while you’re in the middle of a complex manoeuvre to get past a row of traps or retractable spikes. While this might sound off-putting it’s never so unforgiving you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.
With a surprisingly smooth difficulty curve for such a title making things easy for beginners and a generous amount of checkpoints in each level you never feel like the game’s being utterly unfair. For every time you die it’s an experience which doesn’t make you want to hurl your keyboard through your monitor so much as become more determined to correct what you screwed up. Gravi might be unforgiving in many respects, but it’s not made in such a way where you feel like the developers openly loathed your guts. Something helped by the fact you’re given access to an unlimited number of lives and no time limit, but you lose points for every second you fail or time you’re killed.
What makes Gravi stand out however is the mechanics involved. Rather than running, crouching and jumping you have to use anti-gravity fields to move over traps, roll under them and shift your mass by expelling smaller fields of energy. While the latter ability isn’t used often in the opening levels, the former is crucial and gives an additional layer of tactical thinking to the game. The anti-gravity field works by firing it and having it pin to the section of the level, but as well as needing something to stick to it curves in flight. Many times you’ll have to directly target things which will instantly kill you to progress forcing you to also estimate when you need to cancel the field before you reach it completely. As such you not only have to predict just where the field will land, but estimate how high to throw it and how far you want to be dragged in one direction. This leads to many of the more complex puzzles consisting of you constantly changing direction as you extent and cancel the anti-grav field while trying not to hit the walls of multiple spikes either side of you.
Oddly enough the game’s biggest flaw actually comes from the basic movement mechanics, which desperately need just that bit more polish. Rather than suffering from the frustrating issues Mario and Luigi had in their 2D side-scrollers as they slid off of platforms and into pits, Gravi’s protagonist has difficulty changing direction quickly. It’s something you’ll probably not notice at first but every time you want to shift directions, start suddenly moving or pull back, your character will suddenly come to a juddering halt and refuse to budge for a few moments. This could be something which will be fixed later on when it’s properly released but needs to be mentioned.
It’s a simple game so there isn’t much beyond the gameplay but what we do get is fairly decent. Graphically the game isn’t exactly stellar and the environment does consist of a vast amount of greys and blues, but it’s done in a very artistic style. Levels consist of machinery and aesthetics you’d expect to see from things like the machinery in Jack II or Ratchet and Clank with charmingly cartoonish touches to offset the fact the entire thing is a massive deathtrap. While levels do become admittedly samey after a while and lack the visual variety you’d want in something like this, there’s at least some fun to be had in looking at the masses of pipes and electronics which make up the levels initially. The graphics themselves are only passable, looking slightly dated but as it’s not a Triple-A title attempting to look like the next Crysis you’ll probably not notice that. What you might notice however is the lack of screen resolution options and the way the graphical settings screen feels very bare bones at the best of times.
Furthermore much of the musical accompaniment is all but unnoticeable. It would be one thing for it to be unintrusive so you can focus upon thinking hot to get around deathtraps but it really doesn’t stand out. At all. Even after six hours of playing this game I could not remember a single tune from it.
Is it bad? No. Far from it, in fact it’s a solid title as these things go and you’ll definitely get a good few hours of enjoyment out of what it offers. It is outstanding? Hardly, it’s nothing worthy of a glowing endorsement but it doesn’t do anything particularly wrong and is fun enough to keep coming back to. And there’s more than enough levels, bonuses, collectables and risks to give it a very long lifespan if you’re that determined to perfect the game. If you’re a fan of hard platformers with the constant risk of instant deaths, requiring exact timing and pinpoint then I’d definitely recommend looking into this one.
We received a review copy of Gravi. All opinions are honest and of the minds of the Paranerds.com staff.