Gravity Ghost is the latest game by Ivy Games’ Erin Robinson, a beautifully hand-painted gravity physics game that is not quite like any other game out there. I played a little bit of this game last year at Gamercamp, and while I was super drawn to the graphics, I didn’t get a chance to spend enough time with it to really understand the mechanics, so I was pretty excited to get the chance to spend some quality time with this game. The premise is quite simple — you are a “Petite Princesse,” and you explore a galaxy, unlock new levels with new challenges, and rescue other creatures when you find them. Visually, it reminds me a lot of Little Big Planet, with the highly stylized papercraft graphics. But like LBP, don’t let its cuteness fool you — this game is challenging, but not in a frustrating way. You can’t die in this game, you can only not get the star. If you don’t get the star, you don’t complete the level. But you can leave at any time, so if you get stuck, it’s pretty easy to find a simpler level and come back to it when you want. I seriously considered including pictures of my face when I unlocked a new level, because they were probably pretty hilarious. I spent a lot of time being like, “Oh shit,” but despite those initial reservations, still managing to complete the level. This brings an almost unbridled sense of joy to the gameplay — the stakes aren’t high so you actually get to enjoy the game mechanics. The “oh shits,” did very quickly turn to “weeee!” on more than one occasion.
And the gravity physics are really like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s not like Earth gravity, but rather the gravity of space, where you are pulled towards the closest and biggest object. Figuring out how to navigate this is tricky, but fun. The rules we’re used to don’t apply in this game, which adds to the challenge. It’s interesting, because when I was playing this game, it made me think a lot about control in games. Usually, the way to win is to have complete control over your character and the level you are in. This is not really the case in Gravity Ghost. Instead, a lot of the time the way to complete the level is to relinguish control entirely, and let gravity do its thing. It’s sometimes difficult to remember to do this, becuase as players we’re so conditioned to having complete control that it doesn’t even occur to us. On most games, losing control means dying, but Gravity Ghost really plays with this assumption, since it’s not that kind of game to begin with.
The level design is also really quite inspired and creative. There are a lot of levels (I didn’t actually count how many, but easily 30+), and each one is different, with new challenges. The rules tend to change in each level, with bouncing planets, ice, moving stars, breakable planets, almost anything you can possibly think of. I have no idea how they came up with so many, and made them so different. There’s really only one issue I had with the game, and it may even have been a glitch, but it was not always clear how to complete the level, particularly the Guardian levels. I would get the star, and exit, but then it said I didn’t complete it. It just kept telling me to double tap, but didn’t really say what was expected once the Guardian appears. Again, this could have been a glitch in the copy I had, I’m not entirely sure. But I tried five times and it still didn’t give me the complete.
Gravity Ghost also features a beautiful, atmospheric soundtrack made by the composer of FTL: Faster Than Light, which really helps bring the game to a higher level. I think when games have more of an emphasis on gameplay than story, an amazing soundtrack is essential, because it helps set the tone of the game and create immersion. If you want to keep listening to the music in the game because it’s good and perfectly suited for it, it keeps you playing. In a bit of an aside — it’s currently only available for computer, but I couldn’t help but think that this would be a great handheld game, particularly for the PS Vita. I don’t think the developer has any plans to make a Vita version, but I think it could be really great with its motion-sensing capabilities.
Gravity Ghost is now available for preorder on PC, Mac and Linux at gravityghost.com. If you preorder the game, you get 33% off the release price, which means you only pay $9.99. After release it will be $14.99. If you’re really into mechanic-driven games like Little Big Planet, or Mario Galaxy, I highly recommend you pick this one up.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game provided for free by the developer.