The last time I remember having this much fun jumping around on a bunch of little video game planets was in Super Mario Galaxy. Arguably Nintendo’s best game of the 21st century, universe asked players to battle gravity in space while doing the usual 3D Mario stuff like jumping on goombas and collecting stars. It sparkled thanks to small, clever levels, but like most Mario games, it didn’t have much in the way (the Rosalina sequences notwithstanding).
More than seven years later, we haven’t really seen a substantial platformer that mines Super Mario Galaxy‘s best gravity-based twists (unless you count the sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2). That means modest, cute this week Gravity mind does not have many peers. It also asks players to hop around some small video game planets while struggling with gravity – and hey, it even asks players to pick up stars along the way.
i make the Mario Galaxy comparison not because Gravity mind is a once-in-a-generation masterpiece, but rather to blow up all assumptions that this smaller game is just an “artsy” throwaway. First impression features such as colored pencil style graphics and a sad family obsessed story are quickly combined with simple, solid gameplay mechanics and a surprising amount of platforming depth. Bittersweet storytelling and kid-friendly twitch platforming come together in a game that can be enjoyed by parents and their kids alike at its best.
Diamond planets are a ghost’s best friend
The game begins with players taking control of a long-haired ghost in search of a fox ghost lost among the stars. Your spirit has an obvious link to a young girl on Earth, whose stories of family and loss are told through animated cutscenes along her journey to connect other spirit animals to their rightful place in the universe.
Playing is quite easy from the start. Players walk around 2D planets, jump between intersecting gravitational wells, and adjust their trajectories while in the air to hover over and grab the game’s many star and flower pickups. You’re essentially trying to ping pong from one job to the next, at least in the beginning. Before long, the game reveals multiple types of planets, each of which has its own characteristics, making the orbit search more complicated. You can swim through water planets; air planets act like pinball bumpers; diamond planets have a more intense gravity; and fire planets actively repel your hero.
At the end of the game, tricky levels ask you to carefully navigate how you soar through space while battling the gravity and attributes of competing planets – and in many cases terraforming yourself so you can change how they levitate you (like the changing from a nasty fire planet to a friendlier grass planet). There’s a little hint of it Metroid clear Gravity Ghost’s large world map, in that the game gives out new maneuvers and terraforming abilities over time. The game is actually quite meek about those power-ups, as you never have to go back and solve a previously unsolvable puzzle. Some players may find that welcome, but I would have liked a few “Oh cool, now I can finish that thing from before” moments of discovery.
The basic technique of floating and weaving between planets feels satisfying – and even relaxing – due to the lack of time limits and deadly creatures. Since you can’t die or fail, you can occasionally lose yourself in long float-a-ramas, especially when trying to collect all the flower icons floating around. These flowers are so numerous that you’ll probably never run out of the crucial terraforming ability they provide, but they still provide a satisfying “plunk” sound with every grip.
Fantasy‘s misfit children
Even if the game itself wasn’t great, it could survive on sheer aesthetics alone. Ben Prunty, the musician behind FTL‘s soundtrack, chips into a melodic score of somber yet catchy electronic tunes, as game creator and recording artist Erin Robinson flexes her hand-drawn chops with explosively colorful characters. The game’s wealth of “spirit animals” seems Fantasy‘s misfits, and the titular ghost comes complete with a beautiful animated hair trail effect where her locks follow her every move as she floats through space.
The story follows multiple female protagonists, each coping with loss and family issues at different ages, and its success lies in its use of white space. It weaves together simple, formative experiences to feel more like a fly-on-the-wall look at the wonder of youth than a carefully crafted, movie-worthy story. At best, there’s a pure, autobiographical feel to certain sequences, especially the one with the thoughtful, geometry-obsessed grandma. Unfortunately, this means that some of the game’s most emotional moments don’t come thanks to intense character development, but rather melodrama, which at least makes sense in the context of Gravity mind‘s storybook-like treatment and script. That is, you can cry, but you don’t necessarily remember the names of the characters.
The game’s cast of voice actors features a mix of solid and stilted contributors, but I mainly wanted to mute it thanks to the overuse of Ashly Burch, best known for the “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing” web series and her voiceover work in the Borderlands games. Her peeps and enthusiasm come across as tone-deaf to the situations her characters face; just because those characters are young doesn’t mean they can’t have an emotional range.
However, these problems with the story are not major shortcomings. Really, the only problem that stuck with me after my short time with the game (I collected every collectible in three hours) was the way it ended shortly after teasing some of the hardest, most creative levels. Gravity mind performs a lot of maneuvers to make floating through the cosmos easier, but some levels are designed to be too easy to beat once you get every power-up – especially the jump in the air that essentially lets you float endlessly. I’d like to see a follow-up expansion with some “challenge levels” or power-up restrictions to emphasize how tricky and fun some of the most inventive gravity puzzle moments can be.
Until that expansion comes out, I’ll be content with memories of Gravity Ghost’It’s gloomy whimsy. I wouldn’t hesitate to share this pretty tricky game with a casual gamer, platformer junkie, or kid; it comes with a dark but healthy mindset that treats loss and adolescence with kindness and grace — and it squeezes in plenty of sweet orbit-driven planet-hopping to boot.
- A surprisingly robust, gravity-driven spin on 2D platforming
- Visual and sound design make this feel like a storybook game
- Pleasant enough for newcomers, with some good challenge peaks for diehards
- The bleak story is told in a sensitive way, so parents should not be afraid to share this with children
- Some of the most emotional moments lean too much on melodrama
- Power-ups make some of the more challenging levels far too easy to beat
- The game would benefit from a “challenge pack” with more difficult levels to maximize the game’s cool mechanics
The ugly one
- At worst, voice acting caused me to hit the mute button and stick with the subtitles
Pronunciation: Get it if you have kids or casual gaming friends to share it with.