Gravity Heroes tricked me. Taking one glance at the cutesy pixelated visuals, I assumed it would be the perfectly chilled out choice for some fun local play. Oh, how wrong I was. Gravity Heroes is far from a bad game, but it is an unrelentingly difficult one. This is a game that makes UFC’s Alexander Volkanovski look harmless in comparison.
Gravity Heroes is ostensibly a 2D arena shooter, but ends up being something else entirely, more akin to a bullet hell puzzler. Your teeny pixellated hero and up to three pals take on wave after wave of robots until you are the last ones standing. That rarely happens. The usual outcome is that you’ll be dead long before your robotic foes wave the proverbial white flag.
So why is it so difficult? That’s down to the inclusion of gravity. Gravity may well be our friend in real life, preventing Earth’s oceans and atmosphere from disappearing off into space, but in Gravity Heroes its use can be borderline baffling and adds exponentially to the game’s difficulty.
At any point in the game, with a mere flick of the thumb stick, the personal gravity of your avatar is changed. You’ll end up falling – or rising, I guess – to the ceiling, floor and walls of the arena. All the while you can carry on blasting away with your weedy shooter, albeit with the temporary disorientation that comes from everything suddenly being back to front.
It’s a neat trick, allowing your warrior to send themselves cartwheeling through space to attack a foe from behind or dodge an incoming attack. The problem is, that trying to initially grasp the controls is like a three year old figuring out how to pat their head and rubbing their tummy. It took me so long to retrain my reflexes, to try to remind myself that wiggling the right thumb stick would not alter my aim, but would instead send me spiralling around the arena in a gravity-induced daze. Suffice to say, it was frustrating.
The obnoxious difficulty of the enemiies certainly doesn’t help player acclimatisation either. They are relentless and tough. Wave after wave of minions arrive and take great pleasure letting the player know that they’re not nearly as good at games as they thought they were. Then there are the bosses. It doesn’t take long for these behemoths of pain to turn up, and you can be assured it takes a long time to clear them when they do. Even the very first boss has an impressive array of attacks that result in a hail of bullet hell death. To be triumphant you’ll need pixel perfect timing and an accomplished level of gravity switching skills.
Things aren’t made easier by unclear weapon pick-up icons. You can grab a wide array of weapons during a level, from guns that shoot bouncy bullets to a classic Doom-inspired shotgun, but good luck figuring out what is what before you pick things up. The icons are too small and too unclear to aid in intuitive play. Instead you’ll be left cursing when you inadvertently swap out the exact gun you needed for a puny laser blaster that is utterly pants.
Why the over-the-top difficulty? Perhaps to draw out the game’s playtime. There’s only a handful of levels and a smattering of bosses. Indeed, without the controller smashing levels of difficulty Gravity Heroes could be cleared in an hour. There’s a survival mode and a multiplayer mode as well, which are straightforward additions, though ultimately throwaway and soon forgotten.
In terms of presentation, there’s a lot to like here. The detailed pixelated animation is a joy. Your teeny tiny player character will often don their helmet before battle, discard expended ammunition and collapse in painful (but cute) death. There’s a story which, despite being entirely nonsensical, at least benefits from dialogue that changes depending on the characters you and your pals have chosen to play as. Discovering all the banter options is one way of distracting yourself from the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t clear the stupid boss.