This is another retro-style 2D shooter for the PSN and probably the harshest one yet. Your space-ship handles similarly to games of yesteryear like Thrust and Gravitar. If this means nothing to you, it’s like a hockey puck slowly sliding across the ice, with little thrusts to control changes in direction. The game’s enjoyable to look at in a minimalist way, with its simple yet striking visualstyle of solid lines making up the maps and lighting them up with a neon glow.
The left stick controls movement and the right one aims your unbearably inadequate weapons. Thrusts have to be applied gently because the more momentum you pick up, the longer it takes to slow down, meaning you’ll overshoot your turns and slam into rocks and die. Floating downwards is a key way of navigating the maps and narrow, horizontal gaps are best survived by pointing your ship upwards and waddling through sideways like a cardboard cut-out of a sumo wrestler (it’s fair to say my mind snapped at some point during this game). Your ship is actually easier to pilot when travelling through water and makes you wish the whole game took place there.
You have a rapidly depleting, but self-recharging shield to protect yourself from enemy fire and act as a bumper for hitting the scenery. More often than not though you end up pinging off both sides of a narrow tunnel waiting the inevitable explosion and feeling of overwhelming bitterness at being restarted in an annoying part of the map (anywhere really). If your fragile ship wasn’t enough to worry about, you have to make sure you don’t run out of fuel too. Feel the fun.
The basic weapon you have for the majority of the game is a slow firing, inaccurate bullet that takes forever to kill anything and even longer to line up a shot. Moving while firing is even more of a nightmare. There are a few power-ups to collect that may give you rapid fire or a wider spread of shots but they don’t last long and are handed out at a sparse rate by the game.
You’re given objectives like blowing up three of a certain building type, along with secondary tasks like collecting coloured crystals, picking up survivors, and finding hidden artefacts to draw out the experience. Many of these building look the same though and you’ll constantly be checking your mission screen to see if you’re making any sort of headway.
You need to carefully land your ship to pick up stranded survivors. Infuriatingly this usually results in crashing, despite an apparent soft approach with your landing ‘feet’ extended. WTF moments abound. Here’s a handy hint though, you’ll lose less points for shooting them than you do for dying? Just saying is all.
Lose all your lives and you’re given the option to carry on with your score reset to zero. Particularly annoying if you slightly nudge a wall on your way to the exit, but you may come to expect it a few times per level and eventually the game becomes less about the score but more about just grinding through it. Bizarrely, there’s no option to retry a level, so if you want to collect everything or attempt a decent score, you have to do it first time around which kills replayability on the spot.
If you can forgive or climatise yourself to the hardcore handling, there are five solar systems with six planets each, plus some moderately entertaining split-screen multiplayer options of deathmatches, racing and crystal collecting.
A full sized level editor is included too, so even if the game’s too tough for you, you can inflict some mean maps on everyone else. The editor is well designed and easy to use with everything from the main game available. Scenery can be resized and put anywhere along with a rich range of buildings, enemies and aesthetic effects. You can quickly jump in to test it at any point and you don’t have to worry about it falling apart Little Big Planet-style either. There’s already a decent selection of user-made maps online, some of which look better than the original ones.
The game will be coming to PSP too later on this year which graphically may be a good fit, but the lack of a second analogue stick for aiming will likely cause much annoyance and a potential wave of PSPs being snapped across knees throughout the nation.
If you like your games extremely challenging or have a thing for anything retro, then sure, you’ll get a sadistic pleasure from Gravity Crash. If not though, this might just be a little too trying for your patience and you might want to try the much more easy-going PixelJunk Shooter. Not sure? Then download the Gravity Crash demo now from the PSN Store and check out the gameplay and the mapmaker for yourself.