The synthetics are rebelling, causing chaos in a futuristic space world, and it’s up to the four titular “Gravity Heroes” to save the day. First, they have to discover why the synths are acting up. Something seems to be off, turning the robots against the humans and bringing closer the threat of an all-out war. Surprisingly, this is the story told by Gravity Heroes, a 2D pixel-art shoot ‘em up that can be played solo or with up to four people. It is surprising because, usually, a game of this style and caliber is not expected to actually care about the plot. Gravity Heroes doesn’t tell a complex narrative about the nature of humanity, but, nevertheless, you will find more than you’d think.
The story is simple, full of exposition-heavy dialogue that gives away most things, but the four heroes do have some depth. First of all, while they look almost the same, albeit with different colors on their suits, these heroes have some personality. Interestingly, there’s also a bit of character-specific dialogue that changes depending on who you’ve chosen to play as. The writers even tried adding small backstories to keep things fresh, and it’s an effort worthy of praise, simple as it may be. It’s better, undeniably, to be able to identify with the characters, even on a basic level, than controlling faceless avatars and blowing away at baddies for no clear reason.
The campaign is short, ending in 2-3 hours, but it’s enough to tell a small, contained story, mainly through dialogue in the beginning and end of missions. It’s not a particularly engaging script, but surely it’s commendable enough for trying.
Gravity is subjective
Getting past the plot, we find ourselves in tiny maps comprised of one “screen” with some traps and platforms that we can use to our advantage (they can also be a disadvantage, depending on the situation). Our main goal is to destroy all the enemies that come in waves. It’s a simple premise, with classic shoot ‘em up antics reminiscent of older arcade shooters like Smash TV mixed with some 2D Mega Man-like platforming.
What differentiates Gravity Heroes from other similar games is, well, gravity. You see, we can manipulate the flow of gravity so we are able to move vertically or horizontally at will. If you use a controller (it is without a doubt the preferred way to enjoy this game) and you tilt the right analog stick to one direction, the flow of gravity shifts accordingly. Keyboard and mouse controls are decent, but inevitably harder.
For example, if you tilt the stick upwards, your character turns upside down and falls until hitting the ceiling, where they start walking -the same can be done in every direction. This gimmick gives you an edge in battle and allows you to use the stages’ space as you see fit. It’s a cool trick than opens up many possibilities, but, sadly, there are some caveats.
Bullet hell needs tight controls
The most important fault that can be found within the gravity-shifting system arises because of some frustrating controls. The jumps are not responsive enough, the characters can’t turn in the 2D space while shooting a gun, and, in general, movement is brought down by a slow feeling. Also, gravity feedback is a bit sparse and you end up confused more often than not, not knowing if you’re going up or sideways. Action of this sort needs a laser-precise control scheme to be enjoyable and unfortunately Gravity Heroes doesn’t manage. Because of this, action pieces that should be exhilarating puzzle-like shootouts end up being frustrating and cumbersome. The main gameplay mechanic, as cool as it is on paper, doesn’t really take off.
Then, there’s the high difficulty which, paired with the problematic controls, creates annoying moment-to-moment gameplay. It is worse if you try to play solo, because the game is clearly designed to be enjoyed in multiplayer, as evident by its bullet-spongy enemies. Some additional small annoyances make things worse: the weapons are not balanced, meaning that some of them are virtually useless and others too powerful. Also, you have no way to switch between them, as the one you equip takes the place of what you already carried. This in itself is not a problem, but it leads to situations where you have a shotgun that is not helping at all, and you have to deplete its ammo to be able to use your trustworthy laser-gun.
Additionally, the enemy types are not enough to maintain the desirable levels of variety. Some of them are downright annoying, with no clear attack patterns and many highly damaging moves. Boss fights are particularly hard, leaning in a “bullet hell” approach that is efficient in its design, but again affected by the aforementioned problems. Unexpectedly, the levels switch things up sometimes by introducing thematically fitting puzzles. Again, decent puzzle design is brought down by unresponsive controls and unpredictable character movement. When you finish the campaign, you can go back in a higher difficulty mode made available after the first completion, you can chase higher scores, or play multiplayer matches with your friends in versus or survival modes. Nothing too substantial, but enough content to stretch the playtime for some hours.
Pretty, simple fun
The presentation is fitting, portraying the heroes and enemies in cool, well-made colorful pixel designs. The levels are even better, boasting some nicely drawn landscapes, derelict space stations, abandoned buildings and more sci-fi backdrops. Everything runs smoothly, and the action is accompanied by ear-catching tunes in futuristic-miami-vice style or in slower, cavernous melodies. Gravity heroes will not blow you away, but it gets the job done. The biggest visual downside is that some enemies, while decently designed, don’t convey their type in an efficient manner, letting you try to predict their attack patterns based on lacking feedback.
All in all, Gravity Heroes is a fun little game that is sure to satisfy hardcore arcade shooter fans. Its presentation is decent, the mechanics are interesting, and the story packs some unexpected depth for a game of its type. Sadly, it’s a shoot ‘em up that could be well above average, but some problematic design choices and subpar controls don’t let the core concept shine. If you have friends who are nostalgic for the arcade-era shooters, you’ll enjoy an action packed afternoon.