Art Of Gravity Review
Puzzle games are always a bit difficult to write about; since they’re focused more on mechanics than story, half of the stuff that I tend to focus on in my reviews is immediately off the table. Art Of Gravity makes things even more difficult because a lot of what I wrote about the developer’s previous game Zenge remains true here. You still pick up on the gameplay mechanics through clever level design that teaches you through doing rather than forcing you to go through a bunch of dry tutorials. There are still numerous mechanics gradually introduced and elaborated on at a decent pace. This game also costs a dollar. Of course, Art Of Gravity has its own unique mechanics unlike those in Zenge, and the goal of each level is also different in that it’s more of a physics puzzle where the goal is to shoot spheres at blocks in such a way that all of the level’s blocks are destroyed (I think this is what I like so much about this game—it speaks to both my love of puzzles and my love of wanton destruction). I suppose one obvious difference between the two games is that I played this one on a PC rather than on my phone; whereas Zenge had an Android version that I picked up, Art Of Gravity is iDevice-exclusive on mobile, and my old iPhone 4 falls well below the iPhone 5S or better requirement needed to actually run the game.
Art Of Gravity is 100% focused on gameplay
Zenge included a weird non-story that I couldn’t make heads or tails of (not that it stopped me from trying), but Art Of Gravity doesn’t even bother. There are no cutscene panels between levels, nor are there characters to discover here. Only you and the puzzle in front of you. It’s no wonder that the puzzles are paced so well, then, with new mechanics showing up right as old mechanics have had enough time to properly establish themselves. Given how little free time I’ve had in the past few months, I’ve developed a real fondness for games that pay attention to pacing and don’t strive to waste my time to artificially pad out play times, and the pace here is nice and breezy.
Good pacing means nothing if the gameplay isn’t fun, though. Fortunately, the gameplay here is. It works a little like this: you’re shown a 3D scene with blocks that are all aligned to invisible columns both vertically and horizontally, and you’re given a number of spheres to shoot along these rows with the goal being to disrupt everything. Smash the level up however you can, basically. That bit about columns is difficult to articulate in an understandable way (watching the embedded videos that show gameplay helps), but suffice it to say that the spheres you shoot aren’t affected by gravity. Instead, they fly in one direction until they hit something, at which point the type of sphere you’re using reacts in its own unique way. For example, the grayish-white spheres are the first you encounter, and these plow through white boxes pretty effectively, but can barely take out a single red block. Red spheres, on the other hand, plow through both white and red blocks with ease, cause bombs to explode a bit bigger, and can barely take out a single black block (so the grayish-white spheres don’t have a chance against those). Then there are the blue spheres. These pass through all types of blocks without resistance, but evaporate the blocks they touch rather than crumbling them. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, though, because destroyed blocks crumble and cause damage to others, hence the name “Art Of Gravity.” Blue spheres can also destroy shields to clear the way for other spheres.
The rewind button is a cool little feature
That last paragraph probably sounds like a bit much to take in, but the game’s only 1-2 hours long and it manages to teach you all of this and more in an easily digestible way in that short span of time. I didn’t even get into the green blocks that clone your sphere and have it shoot from the opposite direction or the pieces that shoot smaller red spheres when hit. Even if you get overwhelmed or lose track of what’s happening in a level, the game comes with a rewind feature that undoes the last sphere you fired. Levels usually only consist of you shooting 1-5 spheres, so you can easily recognize a mistake as it plays out and rewind to fix it without having to reset the entire level.
There’s a little emergent gameplay here
Since the goal is to destroy everything and the game revolves around physics, it’s possible to cheese a level with some clever play. I’m not entirely sure how often I managed to do this, but I’d occasionally finish a level with an extra sphere or get lucky and have a piece of random debris take out a stubborn block right before I was about to rewind. The limited number of angles you can attack blocks from keeps the game from achieving Contraption Maker degrees of level manipulation, and there’s typically only a single way to finish levels, but those few moments where you bend the physics to your will are where Art Of Gravity really steps out from under Zenge’s shadow.
Dramatic lighting and repetitive (but atmospheric) music
Zenge had this piano track that played through most of the game. Maybe even all of it? I can’t remember for sure, but I feel like that’s probably the case since this game also has a track that plays through the entire game. Fortunately, this one is slightly less grating because it doesn’t include piano, instead consisting of atmospheric pads. I do think a more varied soundtrack could add a lot to these games, though, especially if what it played depended on context. Picture this: a puzzle game where the pieces are all characters, and the story is told through the movements required to solve each puzzle and the musical cues that result. That wouldn’t necessarily suit something like this where the goal is destruction, obviously, but the point is that it’s possible to use little elements like this to subtly communicate things much like how the gameplay here explains how to play the game without ever blatantly spelling it out. That’s a large part of why I almost always make a point to talk about each game’s soundtrack, really.
Graphically, I have no significant complaints. The colors and such aren’t as immediately captivating as those in Zenge (the puzzles there had an abstract look to them that really popped at times), but this is made up for quite a bit by the lighting change when you finish a level; right as the final block is broken, the lighting switches from evenly illuminating the entire level to a harsh, dramatic light reminiscent of a spotlight. I think that’s because it uses a single light source for this, or maybe a small group of them. Whatever the case, the harsh shadows and generally moody lighting make watching the level crumble all the more satisfying.
Then there’s the menu. There’s no question that this game was designed first and foremost as a mobile game—which becomes readily apparent as gameplay requires using a mouse in the same way one would use a touch screen—and this really shows in the pause menu; all of the game’s options have been put into this one screen (pictured in the first screenshot below), and while that’s not the kind of thing that normally annoys me, I did notice that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of level select menu like there was in Zenge. Instead, you have to manually cycle forward or back through completed levels if you want to revisit one. There’s not even a start menu; upon opening the game, you jump straight into the next level.
Finally, a minor quibble, but probably the biggest problem I had with the game: each level begins zoomed in. That wouldn’t be a problem if the textures looked good up close, but more often than not they make the objects look much less visually appealing than they do when zoomed out. Later levels also require breaking a certain number of blocks to unlock new spheres to use, and the icons illustrating this show up while the game is zoomed in. This means there are a lot of lines on the screen that don’t really gel together in any cohesive way. Plus, you can’t actually do anything until the game zooms out and actually shows you the puzzle. Like I said, a minor quibble, but definitely something that started to get under my skin after awhile.