Title: Gravity Heroes
Developer: Electric Monkeys
Release Date: January 22, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Action Platformer
Gravity Heroes is a title from pretty-new developer Electric Monkeys, which takes some evident inspiration from arcade games and classic Mega Man titles, which attempts to marry concepts from those games with a gravity-shifting mechanic that makes it challenging but not fun.
Let’s start with the positives here because it’s clear that Gravity Heroes’ most significant strength is its presentation. The game looks great for being a retro-style arcade shmup. Further, the characters have personalities, and the UI is fantastic. Though it has something of an excuse plot given its arcade inspiration, it’s worth noting that there’s some unique dialogue at the beginning and end of each mission for every combination of characters present. Even with a small cast of four, that’s extremely impressive. Bottom line, all of the design work looks great and is bursting with Mega Man-style space-age coolness.
What breaks my heart here is that that is where my unfettered praise for Gravity Heroes ends. To put it simply, this game is not very fun to actually play due to a variety of design choices that add up to a dull, frustrating experience. The most obvious one is that, despite advertising a “single-player campaign,” the campaign mode is nearly impossible to play by yourself for two key reasons.
The first is that the difficulty does not scale anything up or down depending on the number of players, meaning that every single enemy becomes a bullet sponge that takes far too many hits to go down. At the same time, you have to try your best to dodge their punchy attacks.
The second is that, in multiplayer mode, the game is only over if everyone dies at the same time, and dead players are allowed to revive themselves as long as at least one player remains standing – but in single-player, you get one chance. If you die, you start the section – or, worse, the boss fight – over.
After completely failing to even dent the health of the brutal first boss by myself, I decided it was worth trying to play with a partner. The game seems to be designed with couch co-op in mind, though it does also have online multiplayer. However, even with two people, there was so much going on onscreen that after the first boss fight, an hour had passed, and we were simply overstimulated by the sheer chaos onscreen.
The concept of blending Mega Man and Gravity Rush might have worked, but adding unforgiving bullet-hell mechanics (complete with enemies in the very first level who suicide-bomb you if you get too close) made the experience an exercise in frustration.
This is not to mention some of the smaller details. Although there are several guns to pick from, they all spawn completely randomly and are of inconsistent effectiveness. For instance, the machine gun is just entirely useless, doing less damage per second than the base pistol, but you can’t switch firearms at will. Instead, they have to be swapped out one-for-one, so if you didn’t notice you picked up a machine gun, you’d have to go back for the pistol or be completely helpless against anything that aggroes you.
The idea of player ghosts helping the people still alive by stunning the enemies is interesting, but the mechanic for actually doing so doesn’t feel very satisfying in execution. The stun lasts for only a fraction of a second, making you wonder why you bothered.
Also, the control for changing gravity (assigned to the right thumbstick) works fine, but the game doesn’t give enough of an indicator of which direction each player’s gravity is going in. This led to several moments of confusion and rapidly adjusting movement to try to compensate for the abundance of enemies you might be about to accidentally land on.
I can see people who really dug quarter-munching arcade games enjoying Gravity Heroes. However, there are enough caveats here for even that crowd to limit their interests, including the fact that you just can’t play this game effectively by yourself. While the presentation was a nice touch, I was left disappointed that the gameplay doesn’t match the aesthetic.
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