A Calming Walk Through Space
Gravity Ghost is a physics-based puzzle game that has you walking around the surface of planets in a spacey afterlife. You play as the ghost of Iona Bell and skillfully orbit around collecting stars to keep advancing through the constellations in an effort to find your friend, Voy, a fox that is loyal to Iona through love, and the tasty treat of ham.
The levels are very simple and there are very few controls, so you don’t get bogged down, although they did tend to feel a little wonky at times. Each planet in the scene has a stronger gravitational pull depending on the size, and you have to strategically use the pull ability to grab those stars, unlock the door, and get out. The gameplay was a bit repetitive, as you only really move in circular motions; honestly, I felt like I didn’t even have to try half the time. I’d say at most they took me an average of 30-ish seconds each time. This is totally fine — games don’t have to be hard, but the levels not having much of a challenge further added to the repetitive nature of the normal gameplay. Even when I was having a more-than-usual hard time finishing the levels, it felt more like inconsistent mechanics and physics stood in the way rather than me making the wrong choice.
In addition to stars, there are spirits of animals roaming the planets. After coming in contact with the spirit, you hold onto it until a later time where you rejoin it with its body. Since they’re programmed to run away from you, you’ll have to outwit them and catch up. Upon doing this, Iona will have a humorous exchange with them and trigger a cutscene, giving you some background of what brought Iona to this place. I found this a very rewarding part of the game, and since there aren’t too many animal spirits, it makes being a completionist a breeze.
The most interesting part of Gravity Ghost is that there is no way to really fail. You can’t die, which makes sense since Iona is already a ghost, or fall off anything and plummet into the void of space because you’re constantly held to a planet’s gravity. This alone makes Gravity Ghost lack a feeling of pressure and adds to the soothing experience overall.
What do these do?
Throughout the game, we are introduced to two things that change up the gameplay a bit: elements and power-ups. Every branch of the map has a level where you can obtain an element — fire, ice, air, gem, earth, or water — giving you the ability to turn any planet into that biome. Switch your element, walk around the full circle of the planet, and voilà, there you have it. Turn a planet entirely into water in order to sink to the middle of it or an airy trampoline-like earth in order to jump high enough to grab that one star. The amount of times you actually need to use these elements is slim, and it doesn’t really add anything that spectacular to the gameplay. You do need to unlock all the elements in order to help your friends who are still on earth, but this is simply done outside of the puzzles and in mini cutscenes.
Once in a while, you encounter a planet that takes the form of a maze-ball game. Use your gravitational pull to extract the ball out of the maze and collect it to obtain a powerup. I will admit that these are pretty time consuming compared to the other levels, but even though they get more complex as you carry on, they are not as difficult as they are hard to see and make out. Regardless, the powerups are cool and super helpful, giving Iona the power to double jump, make herself heavier, or glide her way around space. I was really hoping that these would become necessary and make the “puzzles” more interesting and complicated in design, but they ended up just making the already not challenging game even easier.
In the deluxe edition, at a later point in the game, you can blast off into a distant galaxy and make your way through a series of puzzles that ultimately prove to be a little more complex and difficult. these levels encourage you to use the elemental powers you’ve acquired to finish the levels and require a lot more thinking than the mindless floating around I experienced in some of the others.
Gravity Ghost is visually soothing. The world is colorful yet has a simple art style that helps add to the overall calming nature of being a ghost in the peaceful emptiness of space. The level design isn’t complicated, and I’ll admit sometimes I couldn’t even tell the difference visually between two puzzles, but simplicity is where Gravity Ghost shines.
The cutscenes look like they were made with pencil and oil paint and, in comparison to the in gameplay, had dramatic muted colors. The characters have all their details and color tone, but the environments around them are completely gray and lifeless. It forces you to focus on the characters and nothing else, driving home the overall message of the story: that the most important things in the universe are the people around you.
Even though the original Gravity Ghost released prior, I would compare the use of black and white versus color to Fiddlestick’s Hue. The sharp contrast between the two color schemes really helps the player understand they are in entirely different places and, for me personally, approach the two with different spectrums of emotion. The music that accompanies you throughout space is a lovely mix of playful and ambient. Ben Prunty, the soundtrack designer, did an incredible job of honing the overall feel of the game in its music.
Amid floating in space, Ivy Games tells a unique story in Gravity Ghost. A girl in search of her Fox friend while simultaneously revealing the mystery of her life and death. Iona’s character is really something special. She’s carefree and doesn’t love the rules so much, who spent her life on an island with her older sister as her caretaker, forming special bonds with the other inhabitants. Now in death, she has the chance to look back on her life and take responsibility for how she has acted and the harm it may have caused to others as well as herself.
At the center of the galaxy (or whatever we’re gonna call this map of constellations) is a black hole, there we can see all of the animals she has helped as well as her loved ones in situations in which they could use some help. It’s a captivating, heartfelt story about how at the center of the universe, even with the ability to travel among the stars, the most important thing is the ones closest to you.