"The very existence of the sandbox levels leads me to believe that Deep Silver liked what they’d come up with and assumed players would be intrigued enough to want to explore the world of Gravity further. So why, then, is there no puzzle editor? With Gravity’s content as limited as it is, and with each of the challenges simple enough in basic design that anyone could make them given an appropriate tool kit, a true puzzle editor could have been this game’s saving grace. With online functionality, the possibilities could have been endless."
Professor Heinz Wolff’s Gravity never uses the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities for anything more than a navigation tool that looks an awful lot like the cursor you see on the computer screen right in front of you. That, along with the game’s no-frills visual presentation and general shortage of content, gives the impression that Gravity was meant to be a PC game, the kind created by an indie developer and sold for budget price as a Steam download. So why, then, is it a thirty-dollar Wii title?
It’s no shock, with only a hundred puzzles and little in the way of extras, that Gravity’s biggest mishap is that it doesn’t do enough with its intriguing concept. The game might as well have been called Physics for the generalities its challenges represent. They’re logic puzzles, really, and they all relate to gravity in some way. Each stage begins with the drop of a ball and ends, hopefully, with the triggering of a switch. The ball is the catalyst, meant to carry forth a process that, at the discretion of the player, will in some way end with the switch being hit. Whether or not each experiment will work comes down to one question: Is what I’m about to attempt physically possible?
A virtual representation of Heinz Wolff himself walks us through the basics of Gravity’s design. Each level presents a “play” button that sets things into motion, either by dropping the ball or, in a few cases, running an engine-powered cart. The switch is never triggered on its own, of course, and so the player is given a tool kit with a limited number of pieces that can be used to morph the scenery. Players can’t actually manipulate the puzzles themselves and must merely add to them with the pieces they have, which can be placed anywhere on screen assuming said placement is physically feasible. With the remote used as an on-screen pointer while the nunchuk is used to rotate objects, the Wii is certainly the ideal console to carry out this concept, but I could never shake the feeling that, again, perhaps Gravity would have worked better on PC, especially during the puzzles in which the placement of objects really requires a steady hand.
So what tricks do Gravity’s puzzles have you performing? Well, anything, so long as they relate to the laws of physics. In many cases, the ball itself is the device that’s meant to trigger the switch, and you’ve merely got to get it there. It could be as simple as building a bridge over a gap, albeit a bridge that must hold its own weight in addition to that of the ball. Sometimes the ball simply doesn’t have the default speed to get where it’s going, in which case you’ll either need to build a ramp for acceleration or position another ball in the path of the first one. You’re occasionally reminded, however, that it can be any object that activates the switch, not just the ball itself. An early example trains you to explore such possibilities by placing the switch in a high location the ball could never reach, and forcing you to design a tower that’s meant to collapse on top of it.
One of my favorite puzzles from Gravity actually has the player building a catapult under the drop point. The ball appears on one end of the screen, and the switch is perched in a basket on the opposite end, far out of the ball’s reach. With only three small items to work with, I must have stared at my TV screen for five whole minutes, wondering just how I was supposed to trigger that switch, and when the answer finally came to me, I nearly jumped in my seat. A good puzzle game, at least one that isn’t of the “falling blocks” variety, should really make the player feel intelligent, and it’s moments like these that absolutely do.
Of course, a game so centered on the laws of gravity, how one object reacts in relation to another, couldn’t possibly have worked without an impeccable physics system to back it up. Gravity delivers in this area, though this doesn’t always work in the game’s favor. In one level, the ball drops down an incline and falls into a rut, and the only tool at my disposal was a single square block. I wedged the block diagonally in the slot with the hope of launching the ball to its distant destination, but when I ran the level, the angle of the ball’s launch was off, and the target was missed. I was obviously on the right track but didn’t know what I could change. I wound up rotating the block, maybe, two degrees clockwise, and boom – the ball flew straight into the switch. I suppose the effect is realistic, but it’s not good game design. It’s this sort of laziness that makes me wonder how well Gravity was playtested.
Most of Gravity’s puzzles are great fun, however, with Wolff providing helpful advice at first then slowly backing off and allowing you to tackle the consistently ramping challenges on your own. The problem is longevity, not quality. A hundred puzzles may sound like a lot, but a large portion of them can be completed in under a minute, and such a small supply of available challenges won’t get you your money’s worth at that rate. What worse is that the supplementary material meant to expand the experience amounts to very little. Gravity’s one-person-at-a-time multiplayer mode offers four different mini-games, one that has players building towers that can withstand an earthquake (by far the most interesting of the bunch) and the others all involving a cannon used to shoot various objects. Each of these so-called party games deserves a quick look but likely won’t extend far beyond that.
And then there are the sandbox levels, which are gradually unlocked by completing the hundred basic puzzles, and which the game freely admits don’t really serve much of a purpose and are meant to be fooled around with. The very existence of these sandbox levels leads me to believe that Deep Silver liked what they’d come up with and assumed players would be intrigued enough to want to explore the world of Gravity further. So why, then, is there no puzzle editor? With Gravity’s content as limited as it is, and with each of the challenges simple enough in basic design that anyone could make them given an appropriate tool kit, a true puzzle editor could have been this game’s saving grace. With online functionality, the possibilities could have been endless. Instead, I can’t guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth until Gravity hits the bargain bin.
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