Posted by Philip J Reed
One of the first titles announced for WiiWare finally sees the light of day.
Among the very first games announced for WiiWare, we might have expected to review Gravitronix around two years ago. But, as they say, life gets in the way. Plans change, things don't work out the way we expect them to, and release dates slip further and further away. It happens, and it's not infrequently to the benefit of the game. When additional development time is used to iron out bugs or to enhance gameplay, a delayed release is worth waiting for. Unfortunately, this particular game would not have been likely to impress even on day one.
Gravitronix plays on a gameboard not unlike Hungry Hungry Hippos; there is a large circle through which projectiles fly, and the characters remain at the rim. Unlike Hungry Hungry Hippos, the characters can slide around within their own segment of the circle. Also unlike Hungry Hungry Hippos, nobody will want to play with you.
Each occupied section of the game (you can leave certain sections unoccupied, if you so choose) will be protected by a row of shields. Every time a shield absorbs a hit, it shrinks slightly. If it absorbs an explosion, it diminishes much more quickly. Once a shield is missing, the character is open to defeat; if a projectile makes it through the gap, that section's character (or team) is defeated.
Reading that, you've probably come to the conclusion that this game is designed with a multiplayer element in mind. You're correct. There is a single-player campaign mode, but aside from a few welcome quirks (such as levels that remove an ability from your arsenal, forcing you to rely on another) there's not much to hold a player's interest. As such, we will be reviewing the game from mainly a multiplayer standpoint, unless otherwise indicated.
Gravitronix controls simply enough. Pressing activates the Push Beam, which will deflect projectiles. Pressing activates the Capture Beam, which allows you to snatch up projectiles and fire them off in another direction. If you capture a projectile you can also "charge it up" by holding down the A button, which will cause the projectile to detonate when it collides with something. In itself, this works well, and allows for nuance by more experienced players; activating the Push Beam will have a different degree of impact on the projectile the closer you allow it to get, and the gravity of the Capture Beam can be used to sling projectiles off in another direction without sacrificing momentum.
Sadly, that's where the good news ends. Movement of your character is handled by twisting the Wii Remote from side to side, but the tilt recognition is muddy and sluggish. The characters move too slowly to allow for much in the way of last-second excitement, and precision doesn't seem to have been a concern to the developers as it takes up to a full second for the character to react to a change in direction. (One second may not sound like much, but try to imagine how difficult a game of Super Mario Bros. would be if Mario kept walking right for a full second after you told him to stop running and move left.)
Games that handle motion control as poorly as Gravitronix should have a mandatory option for alternate control styles. It's a serious problem (being as the entire game is based around your ability to maneuver yourself and objects), and the "movement plus two action buttons" control scheme would seem like a no-brainer to map to a Wii Remote held NES-style. Why not at least give us the option?
Surprisingly, the movement is somewhat more reliable when the controller is held sideways, as in Bit.Trip: Beat, but this makes pressing the and buttons much more awkward, meaning you're basically just trading one problem for another. Again, the option for a proper alternate control scheme would have been an urgently welcome one.
The game doesn't even get menu navigation right, leaving the player adrift in a sea of conditional controls that rarely do the same thing on one screen as they do on another. On some screens, you can use the pointer to select your options. On other screens, you cannot use the pointer and must switch to a clumsy . Why give us pointer functionality only to take it away again in certain spots? Also, on the character-selection screen, backs you out of your choice, but on every other screen, does nothing and the - button backs you out. Except for when it doesn't, on an options screen, where - changes values and 1 backs you out. Huh?
The character-selection screen is one that you will visit far more often than is necessary. After every round (even in the single player campaign mode) you will be asked to choose your character. In other games - such as Super Smash Bros. or Super Mario Kart - this might make sense, as different characters have different strengths and weaknesses, which can be employed in different ways in different areas. In this game, every area is the same and the characters play and control identically. None of them are faster than the others, or more powerful, or distinct in any way. So why are we being constantly prompted to choose between them? Can't the game just let us stick with our irrelevant decisions and get on with our lives?
The only differences the choice of character make to the game are the victory graphic when the round is over and the handful of bored-sounding voice clips you'll hear during the game. During play, every character is represented by a face in a circle, making it all too easy to confuse yourself in the heat of battle ("heat" being used very generously in this sentence) with somebody else occupying your area of the board. The ability to choose between different shapes for your character would have been helpful; the ability to choose between different faces to stick in your circle is worthless.
After every round you'll hear a celebratory voice clip and the game will display a single-screen full-body graphic of the winner(s). There will also be a display of fireworks, the breathtaking glory of which will be like nothing you've ever seen before, unless you've at some point managed to complete a game of Windows Solitaire.
You can choose from a handful of different rules for the game, as well as tweak many settings that can alter the course of battle slightly. We appreciated the variety, but the game is so weak at its core that the variety isn't much of a diversion. It's a bit like being presented with an impressively lengthy menu at a restaurant, only to realize that every item is a slight variation on a dish you don't enjoy.
It's difficult to find much good in Gravitronix. The art style is inconsistent, ranging - as it does - from 3D Rendering 101 to the doodles you'd find in a bored teenager's chemistry notebook. The music (which is actually quite good, if not memorable) loops improperly, with several seconds of dead space between where the song cuts off and where it picks up again. The unfortunate color choices render certain projectiles very difficult to see against the unchanging background. The battles can consist of long stretches of sitting quietly and waiting for a projectile to drift impotently into range, and gameplay often degrades into a sort of limp, careless chaos. There’s no disguising the fact that this is a shambling mockery of a game unfortunately.
Sloppy construction, poor presentation and - above all - aimless, unimpressive gameplay stand out as Gravitronix's most distinguishing features. We have no doubt that a great deal of effort was invested into this game, but it's difficult to figure out where that effort went. In the words of the developer: Medaverse Studios started as three guys who knew nothing about game development wanting to develop games. This statement should act as a stark reminder to all would-be WiiWare developers – the "great" idea in your head may not translate into a game that others would enjoy.
The long and short of it is that anybody looking for a fun multiplayer experience already has dozens of stronger examples to choose from, and anybody who isn't would be wise not to make an exception for Gravitronix. We cannot recommend this shabby excuse of a game to you in good conscience.