Fresh off their App Store debut with Bridge the Gap, Monster Robot Studios are back with the topsy turvy adventures of Gravity Cat (Out Now, $0.99)! Like any spacefaring feline with good sense, Gravity Cat rides around in a buggy that “falls” in whichever direction its wheels are pointed, so he’s never without locomotion even in the depths of space. Who knows why he’s doing this exactly, but it’s hard to blame him for wanting to take such a cool vehicle for a joy ride.
GravCat’s physics are in a class of their own. Fans of the tight planetary bind found in Magnetic Baby will love the sound of reaching escape velocities and hopping over lava pits while hanging upside down, but it takes real finesse to mold workable gravity out of GravCat’s much looser system. Using two rotation buttons at the bottom corners of the touchscreen, the player has to set Gravity Cat’s landing angle and speed just right so that his wheels will catch onto walls and other objects as he explores the game’s mazes for energy crystals. Approach too fast or too shallow and Gravity Cat will glance right off, leaving the player in a scramble to re-orient him before he careens off screen and loses a life. Once you get used to it, though, the freedom of motion in this action-adventure becomes a sweet catnip that slowly but surely grows on the player with experience. In too few games have ceilings, floors, and walls equally been the player’s domain as they are here.
The tons of depth that GravCat serves up certainly don’t hurt! Things are just getting rolling when squashable enemies and mines appear. As the player dives deeper into GravCat’s campaign, not only are more advanced objects introduced, but entirely new functions for handling them. A little ways in and Gravity Cat gets a tractor beam for hauling around blocks; some can be deposited on top of switches, while others must be dragged to places where they can be crushed and yield some of the required energy crystals. Later on the feline hero gets a “Gravity Gun” that gives the player tilt control over compatible objects. These, together with a stomp attack the player can execute by tapping both the directional buttons, have roles to play in the occasional boss battle as well as environmental puzzles.
With new gameplay elements and explanations greeting me every step of the way, GravCat brought me very close to gaming bliss. Cutting into this feeling was a particular type of puzzle that felt poorly managed given the game’s physics. In one situation, the player has to drag a block within visual range of a quickly rotating sphere, then remain planted on the sphere long enough to reach escape velocity and crush said block. The process of getting Gravity Cat settled on flat surfaces is delicate enough; making him collide with a spheroid without bouncing clean off or getting ejected takes bona fide NASA training. I was finally able to conquer this challenge after a ten minute ordeal, and most players are liable to find it just as tedious as I did. The player must also be careful that he or she doesn’t accidentally tap right through the game’s popup tutorials, as the most esoteric functions – Gravity Hook, I’m looking at you! – are hardly intuitive, and there’s no guarantee the tutorials can be seen again. A lot of iOS developer have started giving players the option of turning beginner tutorials back on, and that would be welcome here in updates. Luckily it appears the player is free to skip around the level select menu if the going gets more frustrating than fun.
GameSalad has been something of an underdog compared to the well-proven magnificence of 2D game engines built in cocos2d, but Monster Robot Studios may be on to something here after all. GravCat’s interface feels slick and reliable with minimal screen clutter, and its environments packed with much appreciated nuance. The overkill difficulty in a few puzzles aside, GravCat’s technical quality shows that the developers have really come into their own with their second project.
GravCat sports a healthy variety of environments and very compelling tunes to set the mood perfectly, whether it be the unsettling piano refrain of the fire stages or the cheery yuletide flutes of the winter levels. The game contains two sets of stages to explore, the second unlocked once a certain number of the first have been completed. With 43 levels total at release, GravCat can be counted on for five to six hours of free-floating physics challenge — and it appears some more levels and a Minigame mode are on the way too.
iFanzine Verdict: Perfection was within reach of Gravity Cat’s paws thanks to its neat premise and loads of gameplay depth. Poorly balanced puzzles occasionally get in the way, as these will leave players tearing their hair out rather than motivated to conquer them. Thankfully these occasions are rare enough as to leave the game thoroughly enjoyable if you’re in the mood for a unique gravity-defying adventure.
A word from the developer: the release version, and each update to GravCat, will include a contest detailed in the main menu screen. The release version’s contest asks players to re-post their funny App Store reviews on the game’s Facebook page. The reward for this one will be a nice 11 x 14 print of the game’s poster image.