It's common to think of structural considerations like physics simulations in games like Gravity Ghost. They send you spinning around little planets, after all. But in Erin Robinson's new game, the physics don't feel like physics. They feel like emotions.
It's inevitable that Gravity Ghost will get compared to the Super Mario Galaxy titles, what with its multiverse of miniature planets and emphasis on jump-based movement. But that foundational similarity is pretty much the games' only thread in common. Where the SMG games use their excellent game design to challenge players' skills, their story-telling ambitions are pretty modest. Out this week for Mac and PC, Gravity Ghost is all about pulling together a disparate tale by collecting fragments scattered across a painted universe.
Players control a young girl named Iona, a well-adjusted ghost who's searching for the celestial remnants of her fox friend. Why's she a ghost? What's the deal with her soaring through the galaxy? The answers come as you collect stars and unlock the various parts of the constellations you'll travel through. From the very beginning, though, it's clear that Gravity Ghost is about making peace with a turbulent past. For example, one of the things that Iona will do on her journeys is to reunite the spirits of different animals with their skeletal remains. It's cute and morbid at the same time.
Gravity Ghost's controls are super simple: space bar to jump, left and right arrows to waft counter-clockwise and clockwise through the 2D levels. The jump-feel here is extremely floaty — not as crunchy and precise as in a Super Mario Galaxy game. However, that decision helps the hallucinatory feel of the game. There isn't any way to lose or die in Gravity Ghost and you won't be killing anything either.
But there's still plenty of challenge to be had in reckoning with the competing gravitational pulls of different mini-planets. Iona will crash through planets made of fragile glass and entrapping fluid and you'll need to figure out just how much rotation and force is needed to escape the boundaries of each. Just when you think you might have the particulars of movement figured out, you'll get yanked toward another planetoid. You do it at your own pace and, thankfully, there's never any pressure.
Emotional pressure is the elemental force that's bubbling under Gravity Ghost, and the gravity in the game is a stand-in the powerful tethers that pull us away and towards the things and people we love. It's got a mix of down-to-earth folksiness in the midst of its cosmically inclined milieu, which is a juxtaposition that generates a great deal of earnest charm. Playing Erin Robinson's creation feels like a bit like awkward cosmic dancing, like trying to stay in the flow of shifting, unseen rhythms. It's a fun, little surprise.