It’s definitely fox season in video games this year. If it’s not a story about a fox grabbing a sword and adventuring, it’s a story about a fox losing their family or a fox smashing the MK11 finals at EVO 2019. The fox in Gravity Ghost is a lost friend of a little girl called Iona and the game revolves around her search for her friend and coming to terms with what’s going on. With a new release for the PS4 that adds 13 new challenge levels, 3 new bonus tracks and the ability to play as the fox, is the original Steam game worth the tale or is it just not worth a fox?
Right from the start of Gravity Ghost you get the feeling this story is going to have a rough time of it, there’s a feeling of everything not being quite as happy go lucky as it first appears from the get go. Short sharp cutscenes have a nasty habit of being rushed even when setting the story. Once you get into the gravity platform puzzling you realise that you’re going to have a bumpy ride and the visual design is working overtime to make up for that. Each level has a star to collect that opens the door to the exit, you control Iona as she jumps and glides around to collect them using magic and planets to navigate an area of colourful space. It’s not rocket science and the gravity and physics at work are questionable at best. Its use of gravity takes a fair bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve played any similar physics games before.
Once you adapt to the strange liquid floaty feeling physics the levels have, you’ll be jumping from planet to planet and as you drift through space your hair trails behind. Not only does this visual cue help with figuring out the best trajectory when looping past objects, it can also carry spirits and story pieces. The difficulty curve at work in Gravity Ghost also has this lovely slow increase and as new magic systems unlock you’ll easily be picking things up as you go along. Your hair works as a magic bar and the longer it is the more you have to use. There’s also no resetting on puzzles or a fail condition but it’s easy to forget this as the drive for completion is clearly the story at its heart. Souls of departed animals are collected and taken to their bones and this is how you unlock cutscenes from Iona’s past. You unlock levels from a hub of stars signs and carry on the path as you go.
Controlling Iona as she floats is a strange experience. Using a controller’s analogue stick to swing around in an almost Sonic Spinball like way. You gently influence the motion while the gravity of nearby objects doesn’t always work as you’d expect. Most of the time you’ll jump and glide expecting for the planet to pull you towards it only to do nothing and zip straight past or be too strong and stick to it. You can unlock powers to make navigating the levels easier and once you start to collect these the experience is much more enjoyable. Using magic allows you to change planets to other properties and you do this by circling around them which with a controller can be tedious. More than a few times I found I was missing the perfect loop and dropping the process, I found myself switching to the simple keyboard controls more than a few times with arrow keys for simply ‘left or right’. This was especially the case for the puzzles where you guide a power-up out of the rotation maze and deal with a camera that can be too zoom happy.
All of these niggly problems with gameplay are easily forgotten when you play Gravity Ghost as visually the majority of the game is stunning. The hub world, the guardians you meet for each area and a few stand out levels are stunning to see. The visual quality doesn’t run forever sadly and the cutscenes are very basic. They take on a child’s picture book perspective which works for the most part but the animation is lacking and the style doesn’t quite match the incredible gameplay artwork. There is a shift in tone between but it’s too harsh at times. It is interesting to have a different setting and culture to see in the story and when your in the space levels the visuals pop. Everything from the planets, flowers and animals are all bright and well formed. It’s just a shame that the main presentation is wonderfully rich and vibrant but the story telling is dull and clunky.
Gravity Ghost has some great music that is a little on the short and loopy side but in a way that doesn’t grate on your nerves and you can easily listen to at length. The sounds are fantastic and one of the best sets for a game I’ve heard in an age. From collecting flowers to turning dials and breaking bubbles all effects have a pleasant pop to them and there’s nothing in there you won’t enjoy. The voice acting is pretty good, despite the script being a little janky. Often the tone will flip from a tale about spirits passing on to Iona saying, “you’ll get used to not pooping” and then back to death. It’s a shame the subtitles flicker past with lightning speed as some of the dialogue does as well and the pacing is Gravity Ghosts biggest problem throughout.
Gravity Ghost is a short game and the new PS4 edition does add a few extra features but with just the basic story you’ll breeze through the content in a few hours at most. Collecting all the spirits and stars as you go doesn’t take too long unless you get stuck on a particularly annoying puzzle. What is mildly annoying for the Steam version is the achievements tend to be the obscure “carry all souls and house pieces at once” and frustrating “bounce 50 times” type of goals. I realise they aren’t the main focus but given the games shortness and brilliant difficulty curve they feel less like extra goals and more tacked on. It’s an experience that’s interesting in itself but once you’re done you’re done.
Overall Gravity Ghost isn’t bad, it’s just inconsistent. What there is to play is enjoyable and the story albeit a little rushed and frustrating is interesting and wholesome enough to want to see it through. Some levels are frustrating but the visuals of space and colours of the flowing surroundings all become enjoyable trips into something special. It definitely saves its best areas for the end and the creativity in the challenge levels is fantastic. Gravity Ghost is a good story, a beautiful rendition of a spiritual idea but wrapped up in a story it’s in too much of a rush to tell.
5/10 – Gravity, gravity weighing on my heart
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