Iterate and Improve
Video games are a quickly evolving medium. Something that was new or fresh just a couple of years ago can feel stale and worn out today. Developers are often looking for the “next big thing” to pile on to, and that mentality can bring both positives and negatives.
When a game comes along that does something novel and strikes a chord with its audience, its all but guaranteed that other developers are going to implement it into their own games. Some may just try and shove it in for a quick cash grab while the gettin’ is good. Others, though, iterate and improve, creating something better than the original. That’s how any medium evolves and becomes greater, really.
Knowing this, going back and playing through an older title can occasionally be a rough experience. A game may have been held up as the “peak of its genre” and a must-play experience at the time of its release, but can feel more dull and played-out when seen through modern eyes. It’s an unfortunate truth that not every game can stand the test of time.
The game we are looking at today is a re-release of an older title, one that made a bit of a splash in the indie “artistic platformer” genre back when games of that style were still mostly in their infancy. With the explosion of the genre in the indie sphere recently, though, how well does the game stand up?
Developed and published by Ivy Games, Gravity Ghost Deluxe Edition was released on August 6th, 2019, exclusively for the PS4. The game is an updated re-release of Gravity Ghost, originally published in 2015.
Gravity Ghost puts you in the shoes of Iona, a ghost that floats around outer space. She’s searching for her friend, the ghost of a fox, while also trying to figure out why a black hole has appeared in the middle of the galaxy. Told alongside this story is the tale of a family living on an island, and the events that happen after a member of the family tries to bring home a fox as a pet.
Right off, this game is one of those indie titles that is attempting to tell a deep and affecting story…although the original release of this game was back in 2015, when the market wasn’t as flooded with “deep indie games.” The plot and storytelling style, though, isn’t all that interesting when looking at it through modern eyes.
The majority of the story revolves around the aforementioned family on an island, and it’s told in multiple short and occasionally out-of-order vignettes. Each story segment lasts maybe a minute or so, and there really isn’t much of it (the Steam page for the game’s original release mentions there’s “25+ minutes” of story). Despite this, the game attempts to introduce and establish far too many characters for this short of a tale, leading nearly all of them to be underdeveloped and ultimately pointless to the overall story.
It’s easy to tell that Ivy Games wanted to tell a dramatic story with Gravity Ghost, especially in the events of the endgame. However, with hardly any development given to any of its characters (including the main character), the plot just kind of blew right by me leaving little-to-no impression at all.
Will It Go Round in Circles
The specific genre that Gravity Ghost inhabits is kind of difficult to identify. There’s some platforming elements, a bit of puzzle solving, and a lot of physics-based gameplay and flying around.
Most of the game tasks you with collecting stars from a series of levels. Doing so requires navigating various fields of planets, asteroids, and other interstellar bodies to reach said stars. Navigating the levels requires orbiting yourself around these planets; jumping off a planet with enough speed sets launches you into space and starts you revolving around the planet. Each planet has its own gravitational pull dependent on its size, and gaining enough speed will allow you to break away from the pull of a planet.
There are a few other mechanics introduced to give this relatively basic gameplay a bit more variety. Planets can be made of different elements: ice planets make the surface slippery, fire planets push you away rather than pull you in, water planets turn the entire planet into water that you can swim in, and so on. As you progress through the game, you gain the ability to terraform the planets into whatever elements you want…a mechanic I rarely used outside of moments where it was absolutely required.
You also gain a few extra movement techniques, ranging from a standard double-jump to being able to instantly increase your mass to crash down to a planet quicker. I got much more use out of these than the terraforming mechanics, if only to complete each stage quicker.
The thing is, though, you can complete most of the main game without ever really using any of the above mechanics. Aside from a handful of stages, much of Gravity Ghost is incredibly easy. I was able to complete most stages in less than a minute, and finishing each of the game’s “worlds” 100% only took about half-an-hour each. Hell, the final world was probably my quickest clear, as it weirdly has the least gimmicks out of the rest of the game.
Gravity Ghost really is a short title; I managed to get the credit roll having 100%’ed the base game in about five hours. Really, despite the fact that there’s only about 25 minutes of story in the game, the cutscenes felt like they lasted longer than most of the gameplay stages.
However, it seems like the developers realized this, and as such, for this Deluxe Edition they added a brand new exclusive world…one that had me nearly putting my fist through my TV. Unlocked upon completion of the final world, these new stages are a massive difficulty spike, and were incredibly frustrating after breezing through the base game.
The presentation of Gravity Ghost is extremely hit-or-miss with me. Much of the game has a “child’s arts and crafts” kind of design and feel to it, which works exceptionally well during the gameplay segments. The bright colors and occasionally psychedelic feel made the game more enjoyable than just the mechanics themselves.
The story cutscenes that take place with the island family, though…those aren’t as attractive. The characters animate oddly and stiffly, lipsynching doesn’t line up with voices, and much of the environmental design feels bland.
Speaking of voice, the vast majority of vocal performances in Gravity Ghost are just laughably bad. The single saving grace is Iona’s performance, coming from the long-established actress Ashly Burch. Everyone else, though…the only way I can really describe it is flat out bad, nearly to the point that it turns around and becomes hilarious.
On the other end of the spectrum, the soundtrack for the game is a perfect match for its aesthetic. Most of the tracks are ethereal and a bit hollow (in a good way), with a particular standout being the song that plays while you are in the black hole in the middle of the galaxy.
Left in the Past
Overall, Gravity Ghost is an intriguing concept that falters when looked at through modern eyes. Even in just four years, the game has been far outclassed in the “emotional platformer” genre. I’m sure I could’ve fallen in love with it had I played it back in 2015, but it just feels like a step backward now.
While the core game mechanics are interesting, the difficulty here is just too uneven. The base game is incredibly easy to breeze through, but the new additions for this Deluxe Edition are clear on the other side of the scale, being far too frustrating at times.
If you’re really into artistic platformers and have run out of games to play, Gravity Ghost just might be worth a look. Otherwise, there’s plenty of more recent titles that do this blend of platforming and emotions much better.
Review copy provided by Ivy Games for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.