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Friday, April 16, 2021

Review: Gravity Heroes (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Harvard L.

Gravity is an inherently fun mechanic to mess around with – and this is one game that delivers on that promise. Developed by Brazilian studio Electric Monkeys, the gaming division of Studica Solution, Gravity Heroes is a platform-based arena shooter with unique movement mechanics, which offers great initial thrills and enough space to attain true mastery for the dedicated. I love games that are a little different, and Gravity Heroes strikes that balance between new and familiar. Getting your grips around movement in this game is a bit like learning to jump for the first time in a platformer – there’s that spark of novelty which I’m sure will be captivating for lots of players. There are, however, parts of the design which are less forgiving, and will test your patience.

On Switch, the controls are intuitive and accessible. Gravity Heroes plays like a regular run-and-gun game at first, with the left stick for movement and the right trigger for shooting. The catch is that the right stick can be flicked in one of four directions to change the way gravity affects the player character. This is, at first, very hard to get used to. You can’t really get away with playing Gravity Heroes like it’s Metal Slug – you can’t aim in any direction except horizontally forwards or backwards, and your jump is a pitiful height. To have any chance of surviving the game’s gauntlets of foes, you’ll have to quickly learn how to switch gravity on a whim, rising (or falling?) right next to enemies to blast them before zipping away on a reversed polarity before they can hit you back.

I’ll admit that Electric Monkeys’ design intentions bounced right off me when I first started playing. Gravity manipulation just doesn’t gel well with precision-action gameplay, and I spent the first few attempts of every level dying from enemy attacks which I clumsily floated into. There’s a deceptively high learning curve here. Because your attacks are so limited, and because enemies can walk on walls and ceilings just as you can, you need to create a strategy to effectively hit each type of enemy. The ones that fly around freely will be the bane of your existence. You’ll also need to memorise attack animations for enemies, rotated in four directions and also mirror reversed. I think what this game really needed was a training mode: there’s a robust tutorial that explains all the controls, but it doesn’t effectively convey when or why you want to be switching the gravity versus doing a wall-run, and how to best address each enemy type.


The game has a short campaign mode of four stages broken up into two arena levels and a boss fight, each. Electric Monkeys wastes no time throwing players into the deep end – I died to the first level a few times before I learned how to properly dodge projectiles. Each level is an enclosed room, with waves of enemies spawning in everywhere that you need to defeat using whatever randomised powerups the game decides to spawn in for you. There are weapon upgrades like a shotgun or bouncing bullets, health refills, grenades and an extra-life powerup which is worth its weight in gold. Each basic enemy is a proper challenge – they’re all faster than you, more aggressive than you, and take a few hits before going down. The arena rooms are an exercise in threat management while you do battle with the game’s controls, but it is satisfying when you finally get it right.

If you can get to them, Gravity Heroes’ bosses are a real joy to fight. The team at Electric Monkeys has a wonderful sense of style when it comes to pixel graphics – each boss is a multi-stage spectacle with challenging attack patterns verging on bullet-hell. It’s a tough-but-fair design philosophy harking back to the NES days, where quality rules over quantity. For those who want to play solo though, know that you only get one life without the randomly dropping reincarnation powerup – so prepare for a challenge. Many of the problems I had with Gravity Heroes are mitigated in co-op multiplayer, which I imagine is how the game is meant to be played. It supports local co-op for up to four players, with either single or double Joy-Con controls. Co-op introduces lots of quality of life improvements: instead of only having one life, players are deactivated upon losing their health and become a ghost, which can still help the remaining team members by dashing into enemies and freezing them. If a ghost collects enough energy by doing this, they get a second wind – and the game doesn’t end until all players are dead simultaneously. Even accounting for the increased enemies when playing in co-op, it’s a much more forgiving experience than playing solo.

In addition to playing the campaign cooperatively, Gravity Heroes also has competitive modes in Versus and Survival. Survival isn’t too interesting since it’s just an endless version of a Campaign arena room, but Versus can be a lot of fun with the right crew. Once you’ve mastered the art of switching gravity for stylish hit-and-run attacks, competitive Gravity Heroes becomes a frenetic, unpredictable brawl. It does lean more to rewarding player skill compared to chaotic platform-combat games like Duck Game or Towerfall Ascension – it’s good to have friends who put in the effort to learn the game, since it takes some effort for movement to feel satisfying here. I will admit that the multiplayer tutorial is much better – it doesn’t advance until every player has demonstrated they’re capable of doing the thing, but it does still assume some familiarity with the run-and-gun genre.


It’s a shame that more developers aren’t exploring co-op/competitive multiplayer like this, where after blasting through a cooperative campaign you and your friends get to turn the (literal or metaphorical) guns against each other to see who’s the true team-carry. So I do like this aspect of Gravity Heroes – but be warned that you’ll need dedicated friends to really make it work. Again, the problem is a lack of training options or an easy mode – but if one does get patched in later, then this would be a great game to share.

There’s not a lot of games like Gravity Heroes on the Switch, despite the console’s penchant for local multiplayer experiences. Most arena combat games on the system are throwaway in that they're great for chaotic fun, but lacking in true depth. Gravity Heroes bridges that gap, by offering a deep control scheme that takes time to master. The short campaign makes up for it in difficulty, and a Hard mode that is genuinely challenging. It’ll take a specific, patient playgroup for this to catch on, but I can see four friends who grew up on games like Metal Slug, absolutely loving this one.



- Harvard L.
Contributor


Review: Gravity Heroes (Nintendo Switch)
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