I have a tiny bottle that lives on my bedside table. Inside this tiny bottle, there lives some sparkling blue sand, little seashells, and a tiny, clay fox that smiles when you shift him out of the sand. Finally, I know that this fox’s name is Voy.
Gravity Ghost is puzzle physics game by Erin Robinson’s Ivy Games and I played it first at PAX in 2013, where I acquired my tiny bottle and Voy. I was immediately drawn in by it’s soothing music, whimsical colors, and girl floating through space. Gravity Ghost was still a full year and a half away from release at that point – it came out yesterday, January 26, 2015, and is why I just so recently learned the fox’s name. I had pre-ordered, so I was able to get in a few days beforehand. Score.
I finished Gravity Ghost in four hours, across a three-day period. This series is called First Impressions, where I generally talk about a game before I finish it. I started writing this a few times before I finished, but I couldn’t finish it before I was compelled to finish the game. You know those dreams you have, when you suddenly slam awake, gasping for breath, feeling like you just fell? Gravity Ghost doesn’t wake you up gasping for breath, but you do fall, and when you fall, you keep on falling, around planets and in circles and through stars. That is to say, I couldn’t write beginning thoughts without finishing it, as I fallen headfirst into its music, story, and characters. What I can write here are my middle thoughts, because even though I’ve completed the game, I’m nowhere near done with the story (or talking about).
The main character is Iona, a ghost girl searching for her fox friend. Along the way you learn about her family and friends, and meet new animal friends too. Gravity Ghost is physics based and its means is through planets – you jump and swing around them, collecting flowers that increase the length of your hair (why this doesn’t exist in real life, I don’t know). Your hair acts as your inventory, storing the animal friends you find along the way (I, also, keep animals in my hair). Eventually you gain abilities to terraform planets, through elements like ice and fire. You collect stars that open up new levels and puzzles and you reunite your animals with their bones, freeing them to scatter more flowers into the stars as they joyfully bound away.
Sound quirky? It is. There are a few problems, of course. The gameplay can be repetitive and some levels feel frustrating. I thought the skill level ramped up with no warning, which is just my take on it as someone who is admittedly bad at actually playing games. Those levels are few and far between, though, and most outlets have called Gravity Ghost out for not being challenging enough, so take that as you will. The game also uses its main three voice actors for several different characters and while they all do admirable jobs, it’s a bit jarring in practice. My main problem was the length: I could easily, easily play for much longer in this planet system.
The flaws are far from distracting, however. This game is everything that I love about indie games. It feels tender and touching and heartbreaking. The music and almost chalk-like art work together flawlessly. It’s scored by Ben Prunty, who brought us my personal favorite soundtrack, the soundtrack for FTL: Faster than Light. When I heard that he was doing the music for Gravity Ghost, I was excited. Rightly so, it turns out. The game opens with the Ivy Games logo, and then the following quote by Charles Simic: “Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships.”
When the quote fades, you see Iona and Voy the fox happily playing together. Together, the quote, the words, and the music took my breath away, before I even exited the menu screen.
Maybe that “waking up, grasping for breath” metaphor works, after all.