When Gravity Crash for the PlayStation 3 was released to the PlayStation Store at the end of 2009 we did a video review for it. We liked it quite a lot. Just Add Water had managed to inject a precise and testing control system into a retro-chic visual package. Then they went one better and gave it a soundtrack by electronic video-game music legend CoLDSToRAGE.
So when Gravity Crash Portable for the PSP was released we were keen to take a look. Could Just Add Water get the controls to work on Sony’s portable plaything? Would the precision be there? Could the smaller screen do justice to the art style? Will we still like the soundtrack enough to seek it out and buy it? The answer to all our questions was an unequivocal “yes”.
The neon-infused vector graphics are still simple. Essentially the game-world is entirely comprised of lines with a bit of glow added to them over a pretty starfield backdrop. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is under-designed though. The visuals are very pretty and they fit perfectly with the pumping soundtrack (it’s the same soundtrack from the PS3 version) and the style of game-play.
The narrative is still delivered via a series of text-only cut-scenes which last no more than a few seconds and tell the story of a comical robot (you) piloting a ship to achieve certain objectives through each level. These objectives are no more than to kill a certain number of a particular unit or collect a certain number of a particular gem. The cut-scenes feel a little unnatural but they are mostly well written and gently amusing in places before they’re swiftly out of the way. But Gravity Crash Portable is not about the narrative.
So we come to the controls. Gravity Crash Portable is unforgiving. It’s tricky, fiddly even. Sometimes the controls are frustrating and extremely difficult to gently manipulate to do what you want them to. It’s not easy. But wait, don’t be put off. All of the difficulty is in the first control mechanism which sees you rotate the ship via the analogue nub and fire your propulsion boosters with a face button. Ultimately, this is the purist’s way to play but for those of us with less patience there are two other control schemes (selected via the choosing of a ship before starting).
The second control system has the analogue nub activate your thrust depending on the direction you push it. Guns are fired using the four face buttons as D-Pad, giving you eight-way directionality on your cannons. This is the closest the PSP can offer to dual-stick layout and it gives a perfect balance between the difficult precision of the first control scheme and the over-forgiving nature of the third, new, control scheme.
The final method of control has your ship responding to pushes of the analogue nub by flying in that direction. Stop thrust though and your vessel hovers, unaffected by gravity. Although the ship still carries momentum from user-input motion, you will no longer have to account for – or counteract – the effects of gravity. This control scheme is great to open the game out and make it hugely more accessible but it is also a bit of a contradiction to what we had assumed to be the core principle of Gravity Crash.
In addition to your ship (which is shorthand for control mechanism) you also select whether you want your shields to be automatic or manual. Do you want them to continuously regenerate but need to be activated to keep you safe or would you rather they came on by themselves but needed to be recharged via energy crystals? It’s another way to tailor the game’s difficulty before selecting which special weapon you would like to sport (plasma ball, homing missiles, EMP or lightning) and heading into the game.
There is a decent selection of levels with five systems offering six missions each. The game gets gradually more difficult, as you would expect, and the times you’re expected to beat are often extremely lean. So there should be plenty of reasons to keep coming back to Gravity Crash Portable.
In addition to the main game we also have the unlockable mini-game from the PS3 version already there on the start menu for you. Gold Grabber is like a traditional dual-stick shooter with a robot collecting gold and defending itself against an ever-increasing onslaught of enemies. It serves as a wonderful, if basic, distraction from the wrought precision of the main game.
If that’s not enough reason to keep returning to Gravity Crash Portable there is also the lure of user-created content. The simple and effective editor that was present in the PS3 version is there again, in all its glory, with a slightly improved method of “painting” terrain.
Users can create their own levels and then export them and share them with others via a file transfer of the appropriate PSP folder. This means that created content needs to be exported and then copied off the creator’s PSP before being distributed externally from the game.
While this may seem trickier than just uploading to, and downloading from, a server in-game it makes the game ever-green. You are not reliant on someone else’s servers to share games, you don’t even need an internet connection to share with real-world friends but you do need a computer to transfer files between memory sticks.
To call it a “dual-stick shooter” is incredibly naive, this game is about precision and delicacy of control far more than it is about shooting. Even though a section of the control schemes attempt to emulate the dual-stick functionality, that’s more a concession to modern gamers than a core principle. Gravity Crash Portable is unlike anything else on the PSP and it absolutely deserves to be experienced by as wide an audience as possible.
- Well presented and beautifully “retro”.
- Three control schemes make it accessible to all.
- Perfect for short sessions – ideally suited to the PSP.
- Narrative doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit.
- Sharing user-created content is slightly fiddly.
- Not much variation to mission goals.
For fans of the PlayStation 3 version of Gravity Crash this is more of the same, slightly refined. That’s not a bad thing though, the game is perfectly suited to short periods of play and the PSP’s portability makes it an ideal fit. For those of you who never got around to the big-screen version this is a perfect proposition for you. It successfully overcomes the PSP’s analogue-stick limitations in a way that has often felt awkward before but feels natural here and at only £6.29/€7.99 it offers great value for money.