Defy Gravity is an indie development by Fish Factory Games where you take on the role of Kara, a space adventurer that has located a powerful artifact. Upon obtaining this valuable object, the facility’s defensive systems activate, and Kara has to find a way back to safety. Let’s see how well she did.
With the artifact – a high-tech gun – Kara is able to manipulate space, creating pockets of gravity that either attract or repulse. Besides the gravity gun, Kara wears a space suit with a built-in jetpack, as well as a protective shield. The shield doesn’t protect her from damage, but it prevents the gravity wells from affecting her while active. The jetpack is able to recharge after a few seconds, and it allows Kara to jump again in mid-air. Being in mid-air does not grant many advantages though, as your gravity gun is only able to fire each type of gravity well twice while in the air. Certain challenges need to be planned ahead before attempting them because of this.
The game is designed around Kara avoiding getting terminated by the defense systems and progressing through the levels. The trick is to time your jumps, jet-jumps and gravity wells while being surrounded by threats. The game features a checkpoint system, so in the event that things get a little hairy, you don’t have to start all over again. If you do make it to the end of a level, you enter a door and proceed to the next level.
The levels vary in difficulty and challenge. There are levels where Kara’s shield is malfunctioning, and is permanently active. This adds the complication of not being able to propel or grab yourself with the gravity wells, and you need to fully rely on manipulating the environment. In other levels, a swiping beam of laser is cleaning the whole level from side to side, and you have to hurry to the exit before it catches up to you! Other levels present a challenge in the form of enemies following a certain pattern, and finding the right timing of passing them.
There are a few different types of threats. There are the static hazards, like walls of laser or bottomless pits. There are silver enemies which follow a certain pattern (like moving in a line or bouncing off walls) and gold enemies. The gold enemies are initially the same as silver enemies, except they are affected by the pockets of gravity Kara can create, whereas the silver ones aren’t. The game does not feature the concept of health, and being hit by an enemy simply means instant death. There are no lives either, so being struck means you return to the most recent checkpoint and you get another shot at passing the challenge.
The concept of the gameplay is very enjoyable. I am a fan of platformers and games like Metroid come to mind when playing this game. The design of the gravity manipulation is well thought out and I haven’t experienced any flaws or bugs with this. I really liked how the difficulty scaled up as you progress through the levels. You are able to unlock a Hard Mode upon completing the game, but for the sake of not spoiling too much, I will not disclose how the Hard replay affects the gameplay. It certainly adds another layer to defying gravity!
The graphical design of Defy Gravity is very retro, and quickly reminds me of old-skool platformers such as the earlier mentioned Metroid. The graphics are sprite-based, which are kind of like animated GIF images, but then for games. While the graphics are functional, I did feel that with a little more attention to detail it could have been better. Especially the walls and floor, being one of the most prominent and important elements in a platformer game could have had a little bit more work or variation. Sometimes it didn’t exactly feel as if Kara was fighting her way out some sort of facility. I judge the graphics in their own right, and being sprites I still think they could have looked more detailed. I was particularly disappointed by the appearance of enemies, them being little more than shapes to identify their behavior.
I can applaud the audio, in particular the background music. The sound effects suit the theme and feel, and are functional. The background music stands out, but only in the good sense. It’s not intrusive or stressful. The soundtrack is mainly a chill, laid-back tune to platform too, rather than a hyped up beat that would easily get on your nerves. I can imagine the music would become irritating after hearing it the 25th time by failing a certain challenge. In Defy Gravity, the music is pleasantly attuned to relaxed platforming, allowing you to focus on timing your runs and jumps.
UI & Controls
The interface is very minimal and functional. Since there is no health or score, the only thing you really see in terms of interface are your cursor and your jetpack light. This red light indicates when your jetpack is on cooldown. As long as it’s active, you cannot use your jetpack. As for controls, you only use WASD to move around, jump and toggle your gravity shield. You use the mouse to aim around and fire gravity wells. The mechanism to determine how far you shoot a gravity well depends on how long you hold down one of the mouse buttons. When you let go of the mouse button, the ball of energy stops and explodes into a gravity well. This adds another layer to the timing that is required to complete certain challenges. Very simple, yet very effective.
Replay & Value
One of the things that struck me after completing Defy Gravity was that it had only been about 90 minutes at most since I started playing. Perhaps I’m just really good (*cough* ego *cough*) and experienced with platformers, but if I assume someone would utterly suck and give up playing for the day a couple of times, I still think this game could be finished in about 3 or 4 hours. And since that is including Hard Mode, that I found a bit disappointing. I really did enjoy playing the game, but upon completing it, there is no replay value for me. There is no high-score to beat, there is no level designer, there is no community to play with, or trade level designs with. Not completely unrelated, but I have played this funky game called Armadillo Run a couple of years ago. What that has to do with this is that there was a community and level designer in addition to the main game. I think, if people are able to build their own levels (position platforms, enemy spawns, lasers, etc) and being able to share these designs with others, there would be a lot more replayability. The level of competition of completing each-other’s levels alone would add to the value of this otherwise pretty solid game.
Defy Gravity is a solid game in terms of technical design. The mechanics really work well and the level designs are pretty well polished and challenging. The game is lacking in the quantity of content; it’s too easy and complete and then, unfortunately, never touch the game again. In my opinion, the easy controls, excellent audio and game mechanics do not weigh up against the lacking lifespan of this game. For £3,23 (US $4,99) the game sadly doesn’t offer enough.