Gravity Ghost (official site) has been on the horizon since 2013’s Indiecade. The physics puzzler is at last with us. It soothed a sickly baby to sleep, but did his father enjoy it too? Here’s wot I think:
“Welcome to the afterlife, here is your hug.”
Gravity Ghost exists at the crossroads between a classic physics puzzler, and the sorts of new-fangled emotions-driven storytelling that makes grumpy people all cross. It’s an esoteric mixture of familial loss, new-agey pentagram jibber-jabber, and some really rather stunning use of gravitational orbits to swoop, glide and bounce around enjoyable challenges. It’s also exceptionally pretty.
Created by a complete who’s who of the indie development scene, it’s primarily the project of Erin Robinson’s Ivy Games. Alongside them, the development credits also list indie gaming Illuminati of the likes of Steve Swink, Samantha Kalman and Jon Blow, with special thanks going to Markus Persson, Alexander Bruce and Rami Ismail.
You play as Iona, a young girl flitting about the galaxy, reuniting the spirits of woodland animals with their skellingtons, while collecting stars to open doors, picking up new aeronautical abilities, and gaining – look, I’m just reporting it, okay – magic hair. Different magic hair colours let you change the nature of the tiny planets whose gravity you’re negotiating, perhaps turning them to ice, making them bouncy, or liquefying them.
At the start you’ll learn to leap from the little circles and put yourself into sweeping orbits, figuring out how to influence your path with the left and right keys. (Or mouse. Or gamepad. I found it worked very nicely on keys.) As you progress, this movement becomes far more complicated, with extra boosts to jumps, dashes, plunges and floats, allowing you to develop some really surprisingly intricate skills over the four or five hours it takes to complete.
The 94 levels are littered with flowers to gather, which cause your hair to grow. Hair length is then used up by converting planets into different forms. An economy that made absolutely no difference to my game, it’s worth noting. I habitually gathered flowers at first, but then became more lax about it, and never had any shortage of hair – in fact, a constant abundance. I’m not sure how much I’d have appreciated needing to go back to earlier puzzles to gather more resources, so this isn’t a complaint – rather just an expression of confusion as to its addition.
By the time you’re smashing through glass planets, as you get sucked into the complex vortexes of super-dense orbs, attempting to catch a star that’s swooping about on a rotating pendulum, and catch a cheeky frog that’s flitting behind a repelling fire planetoid, there’s a real joy to the smoothness and fluidity of it all.
Levels come thick and fast, some lasting mere seconds, others taking a few minutes to master. The toughest won’t take you more than five, however, so the whole thing goes by rather quickly. But I enjoyed the short time rather a lot.
I must say, I enjoyed it despite the story, rather than with it. However, I’m fairly certain people’s mileage will dramatically vary. I found its eventual explanations too hackneyed and over-wrought to deserve its deliberately obfuscated delivery. Others will likely be touched by the sadness. What I did rather love, however, was the voice acting. It’s sublime. Calm, matter-of-fact, pithy but always short of ironic, it was a delight. Ashly “Hey Ash” Burch is utterly perfect as Iona.
The art, by Robinson, is also wonderful. With a pastel-drawn look, its bright design and simple 2D layout belies a complexity of informative particle effects and delightful animations. Although I am left convinced someone on the development team wants to make out with a fox.
And here’s another thing I’ll say for it. If you’re looking for a game to soothe your twelve-week-old snot-ridden baby to sleep at 5.30am, I can recommend nothing more highly. My boy stared at it like it was made of magic, and eventually drifted to blissful sleep. It’s hard to deny this biases my opinion of the game quite significantly.
Still, despite that, I think I’d still rather like it. I’m concerned that the £12 pricetag is a bit too high for something so brief (Steam tells me it took me 4.3 hours to finish), but it’s worth noting that their website says you get two copies when you buy it. And it is a lovely thing.