Just a few years before the launch of this epic generation of handhelds, another major event occurred. SEGA, after having its latest console’s clock thoroughly cleaned by the PlayStation 2 (a fate it wouldn’t suffer on its own), decided to ditch the hardware business and become a third party. A pivotal period for the company, and which would see a number of its main developers leave the company for various destinations. One of those people was Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the producer of games like SEGA Rally Championship, Channel 5 spaceAnd Ground. At the time, a relatively young producer, he loved sick dance beats and raver culture, aspects that he increasingly incorporated into his projects.
When he left SEGA, he decided to start his own independent business with a number of former SEGA developers. Named Q Entertainment, its first order of business was to develop a puzzle game for each of the upcoming handhelds. Not the same either. Each handheld would get its own unique game from top to bottom. For the PlayStation Portable, Q Entertainment has created Luminous, a rhythm-driven falling block puzzler that saw players spin and place pieces to match colors as the screen dropped them according to the ever-changing music tempo. The Nintendo DS received Weathera unique puzzle designed by Masahiro Sakurai (Kirby and the creator of Smash Bros.) that used touch controls to manipulate falling blocks to make matches, which would send them rocketing into the sky and, if they had enough lift, knock them out.
Two beautiful games, and both performed well. One did much better than the other, however, and the victor gets the spoils. Luminous received several sequels and a handful of ports, and can easily be purchased on modern platforms today. As for Weather? A somewhat poorly designed sequel derailed it almost immediately, and it only received a few more versions of any kind before falling off the map from 2010. And look, I like Luminous. But I also like Weather, and I’ve been hoping for him to make a comeback of some kind for a long, long time. Preferably in a form closer to the original than this sequel.
Well I don’t know if Weather always comes back. And clearly, I’m not the only one missing it. Developer Drew Smith has more initiative than me, as he seems to have had enough of waiting and just went out and created his own Weather. I’m not going to sugarcoat things too much here. Gravity! basically borrows its mechanics from the original Weather, almost to a tee. Each phase sees you trying to send a set number of blocks to the top of the screen within a certain amount of time. You can slide pieces up and down each column (not left and right), and matching three or more of the same pieces vertically or horizontally will send all affiliated columns into the sky. How high ? It depends on how bad the phase was, if the match was horizontal or vertical, and how many combos you threw.
Blocks will drop one by one from the top, and sometimes you’ll get power-ups in the mix. Send them to the top of the screen to activate them. There are also junk blocks, but they can be turned into normal pieces, often triggering a match when they change. Horizontal matches aren’t as high as vertical matches, and in theory this is your opportunity to combo by making other matches on the raised pieces. It is a must for Weatherand this is one of the ways in which Gravity! didn’t quite hit the mark. It’s a real pain to make a match on these flying columns, and it’s perhaps related to the game’s biggest problem as a whole: the fiddly controls on the phones.
I’m not sure what the game can do about it, really. But I’m not here to fix problems, I just report them. Anyway, the combination of the small blocks, the relatively small screen, and my big fingers mean that it’s a bit difficult to get the part I want to go where I want it on iPhone. It often takes a few tries, and it can be fatal in the most difficult stages. It’s also what makes it hard for me to land those floating combos. If I can’t move parts accurately on a stable column, I have little hope of doing so on a moving column. Again, I don’t know how the developer could improve on this, but I hope they can because I really like the game otherwise. Playing on the iPad is much more comfortable, and the game plays great with the Pencil if you have it.
As in Weather, each phase has its own style. The tracks are different, the background is different, the music is different, and the gravity also changes. What impresses me here is that the overall look is very “Q Entertainment”, if that makes sense. sometimes more Luminous that Weather, but still on point. It’s not as polished as something we’d see from Mizuguchi and company, which is the main giveaway. But it looks and sounds really good, and some of the themed pieces are great fun if a little hard to tell apart.
The main game consists of 20 phases and the difficulty curve is nice and smooth. Sweet at the start, very spicy at the end. You can also play a quick game, which lets you choose your favorite theme, the number of blocks you have to clear and the time you have to do so, and the level of difficulty. A Marathon mode challenges you to keep playing for as long as you can, with the difficulty increasing as you go. Vs Match lets you play against another human player via local wireless or online (Hamster, take notes). This mode is great fun because the blocks you throw at your screen end up cluttering theirs. Finally, your prize for beating all phases of the main game is Grav-Lab mode, which gives you the option to play with any level of gravity you like. Neat.
Aside from control issues and some minor roughness in the user interface, I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about Gravity!. I had an accident here and there, which was disappointing, but the games are so quick that it’s not really a huge loss on the rare occasion that it happens. I would love to play more phases, but it’s just that I want more of something that I enjoyed a bit. If you’re playing on iPhone, it will really depend on whether or not the developer can improve how these controls work. As it stands, I have to recommend it with the heavy caveat that you might have to deal with the frustration of frequent missed matches, and not being able to do a lot of reliable combos with the floating pieces in reason for the lack of precision is a disappointment. Again, if you’re on iPad, you’ll probably be fine.
Gravity! is strongly inspired by Weather, there is no way around it. But considering how many Weather was wrapped up in a very distinct style, it’s amazing how close this game comes to evoking the same feelings as that classic. Given the low price of entry, anyone missing Weather would do well to pick it up on any device they own despite the difficulties of control. General puzzle fans might also want to give it a try. It’s a few solid solutions away from a strong recommendation across the board, but I’m willing to invest in that hope.