As a gamer ‘of a certain age’ I grew up on a lot of arcade shooters, designed to eat your pocket money by throwing waves of pixelated minions at you as you blasted away at them with some upgradable gun or another. Zooming some (read: a lot) of years into the future, I still find myself spending my pocket money on pixel art shooters, with Studica Solution and Electric Moneys’ latest offering, Gravity Heroes being the latest to pique my interest. And with PQube bringing the game to Nintendo Switch, I just had to pour all of that change in my pocket into giving it a go.
At A Glance
|Visuals||8 / 10|
|Sound||7 / 10|
|Gameplay||6 / 10|
|Overall||6.5 / 10|
|Positives||+ Beautifully polished, characterful pixel art|
|+ Manic campaign with wonderful bosses|
|+ Banging synthwave soundtrack|
|Negatives||– Crazy difficulty spikes|
|– Surviving can be more luck than skill|
|– Uninspiring multiplayer options|
Gravity Heroes is a 2D shooter where you have to blast your way through waves of robots using a collection of randomly spawned weapons and upgrade pick-ups. The main attraction is the ability to manipulate gravity so that your hero can walk on the walls or the ceiling, allowing you to bombard the enemy from all angles and dodge incoming fire. You can play the Campaign or Survivor Modes alone or with up to three additional players in couch co-op, and there’s a multiplayer Versus Mode available too. Players can choose from one of four different heroes; humans Abel, Nala and Magnus, or (my personal favourite), the cheeky robot, El Tostador. There’s no difference in gameplay for any of the heroes, but each is very characterful and offers different dialogue throughout the campaign, which is a nice touch.
The action takes place in an enclosed arena that’s a single screen in size, with platforms, doors and obstacles scattered across the middle of the screen to fill out the space. Enemy robots spawn from random parts of the screen to make a nuisance of themselves – some have weapons to fire back at you with while others take a more kamikaze approach to getting rid of the player, simply exploding upon impact with your character. The enemies that don’t fly have the same gravity shift abilities as you, and walk on the walls and ceiling as much as the floor, meaning that the players have to flip around all over the place to destroy all of their targets.
Players will immediately be struck by the quality of the pixel art in Gravity Heroes; the characterful sprites and beautifully drawn backgrounds really leap off the screen. There’s tonnes of motion in the enemy animations and you can see a wonderfully considered approach in the colour palettes and overall designs that seamlessly meshes everything together. The bosses in the game are particularly awesome, with varied designs that grow ever bigger until you feel truly dwarfed by the gargantuan bullet machines trying to kill you. The player characters translate really well from their selection screen art to their sprites as well, and are incredibly vibrant and lively, despite being relatively small on the screen.
And not looking to be outshined by the graphics, the soundtrack is pretty great too, with some fantastic synthwave tracks backing up the action. The score only spans a few tracks, but each is wonderfully constructed, and it’d be sad if they were drowned out by the ‘pew pews’ of laser gun fire and the screeching of charging enemies, so I’d definitely recommend altering the in-game volume to emphasise the music over the sound effects. (That isn’t to say that the effects aren’t decent – just that some of the enemy sounds do become a little repetitive in the manic action, and that they don’t stand out as much as the great musical score.)
With only couch co-op available, COVID-19 might force a lot of players to play through the campaign alone, but I have to say that I found the single player experience good fun. The story centres around reports of synthetics attacking people and the Gravity Heroes are sent to investigate; machines are forbidden from harming humans by the laws of robotics, but the heroes quickly find huge numbers of robots opening fire on them and have to take up arms. The heroes discover a plot that goes right to the top of the synthetic food chain and threatens both the human and synthetic races if they don’t put a stop to it.
Enemies are released into the arena in timed waves, and things can get rather hectic if you don’t clear one wave before the next one is released but with that said, the majority of the campaign levels are simple enough on ‘Normal’ difficulty, and it’s not too often that you’ll feel completely overwhelmed. The roster of enemies isn’t enormous, but there are some new variations introduced as you progress through the levels, giving each mission a bit of a different flavour as well as keeping you on your toes.
Upgrades will periodically be dropped onto the screen to help you in your battle against the robots and there’s a fair amount of choice on offer here too. There’s new weapons like a shotgun or uzi, body armour for extra shields, an auto-revive bot, health items, and loads of others. While it’s fun to try them all out and see what works best for your play style, there are a number of items that don’t really have any benefits at all – like the boosted jump boots that are entirely useless in a game where you can alter gravity, and the grenades that are too slow to use and routinely just end up exploding on an empty patch of ground (or ceiling if you get in a muddle while you’re upside down).
The core action can become rather samey, but after battling through two enemy-infested levels you’ll have to face off with a boss robot that freshens things up nicely. The bosses are all unique and require very different tactics in order to defeat them, which really makes the most of the simple mechanics of the game. And while I enjoyed the variety of the fights and the individual sprites in the boss battles, they come at the cost of rather incredible difficulty spikes that can be immensely frustrating, particularly in the later levels. You go from clearing swarms of enemies at the first attempt and with relative ease, to repeatedly dying under the hail of fire from the bosses and it can feel a little unfair to go from one to the other with no gradual progression. Frustratingly, it can often feel like defeating the later bosses is as much luck as skill too, as you’ll take high amounts damage no matter how good you are, and you’re at the mercy of the upgrade spawns to offer you health-based items to give you enough longevity to get over the line. Oftentimes you’re right on schedule with a boss before one simple mistake puts you behind the 8-ball, and you’re left praying for a health item that never comes and you have to start the tricky boss over again once you’re killed. There are some checkpoints in the boss fights to lessen the soul-crushing disappointment of this, but it feels like a bit of a detour around a problem that the developers have created, rather than a genuine solution to the issue.
I certainly enjoyed the campaign mode, but did find myself wishing for more variety in the gameplay which got a little repetitive in between the bosses. And the short run time (about 4.5 hours) left me wanting more once it was over – especially since some brutal boss fights had already inflated that length somewhat. It made me think that the campaign might have been secondary to the Survivor and Versus modes, with the story being a bow on top of some frantic multiplayer action, but that sadly wasn’t the case at all. The Survivor Mode is a pretty standard ‘keep going until all of the players are dead’ affair, but with achingingly slow starts, it doesn’t really live up to the hectic nature of the campaign and feels a little underwhelming. And more disappointing still is the Versus Mode, which simply sees players fighting each other in an otherwise empty arena; offering little-to-no excitement and unlikely to hold attention spans for more than a couple of minutes in total.
Overall I have to say that I enjoyed Gravity Heroes, but felt it lacked a really great multiplayer experience to flesh out the enjoyable, but short, campaign. The beautifully crafted pixel art and the groovy soundtrack admirably elevates some simple action into a really fun time, but it’s sadly over almost as soon as it’s begun and doesn’t offer nearly enough replay value, which is a shame. Definitely one for fans of quirky shooters and pixel art aficionados, Gravity Heroes offers a good time for a couple of hours but isn’t one you’re likely to return to again and again.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.