As I scan the gaming news sites on any given day, I’ve grown more or less numb to seeing headlines extolling the “next big” FPS or the upcoming highly anticipated sequel to a game that was a spin-off from some other series. And every now and then, it occurs to me: Thank heavens for indie developers. I shudder to think where gaming would be today if it weren’t for the innovative contributions of those individuals and small teams who take their ideas for a game and have the freedom to build them without the creativity-suffocating constraints of corporate deadlines, managerial approval processes, or being outright cancelled for not having enough “mainstream appeal”. Indeed, if it were solely up to mega-publishers such as Activision, EA, and Ubisoft, we may well have never seen such amazing titles as Braid, Machinarium, Audiosurf, Darwinia, and countless others. This week, I was able to add another title to my list of notable indie games for which I'm thankful: Defy Gravity.
Defy Gravity is by Fish Factory Games, a development team comprised of students at Tulane University. (In fact, the lead developer, Paul Fisch, is forum member Eats here on Evil Avatar, so be sure to give props to one of our own). The story is pretty sparse, but that’s honestly okay since the focus of the game is really on the platforming action. But to sum up, you play a female astronaut who has discovered an abandoned alien civilization and explores it in the hopes it can be used to save humanity. It plays as a puzzle platformer, although unlike many recent games of said genre where the platforming takes a back seat to the puzzle solving, the platforming involved in Defy Gravity is every bit as demanding as some of the most hardcore games from the NES era such as the old school Megaman or Metroid games. In fact, were it not for the fact that the game gives you unlimited lives and uses a checkpoint system, I may well not have even finished it by now to write this review.
Other than the difficulty, the feature that sets DG apart from other similar games is the female protagonist’s gravity gun. The functionality of the gun is very similar to the one from Portal, only rather than manipulating space, the one in DG--as one would expect--manipulates gravity. The gun can shoot two types of fields: gravity wells and gravity repels. The gravity wells will pull objects (including both the player and gravity-responsive items in the environment) toward them, whereas the gravity repels do just the opposite, pushing the player and other objects away.
There is a limitation to using the the gravity gun, however. Similar to the mechanism in Splosion Man, you can only fire two fields of each type during a single jump. That is to say, if you jump and then fire an attract field, cancel it, and then create another attract field that you fall or boost into, you won’t be able to fire another attract field until your characters feet either land on the ground, a floating platform, or a moving sphere. (This same is true for repel fields.) This means that you can’t just bunny hop safely from field to field throughout each level, but rather have to budget your gravity gun’s shots strategically, especially when you’re trying to work through some of the longer, more sparse traversals.
The astronaut also has at her disposal a shield which can be enabled at any time that makes her immune to gravity manipulating effects, and a jetpack which can be used to augment her basic jump, but has a 2 second recharge between uses (so you can’t just go jetpack boosting around ad infinitum). You can also cancel either type of field at any time--a feature which becomes essential in the more complicated later levels. In fact, towards the end of the game, there will be scenarios when you have to use all of these tools in order to make it across some very long and perilous jumps, balancing the need for a gravity boost against the danger of pulling lethal objects towards your fragile little explorer.
Graphically, the game is nothing special. It’s clean and serviceable, but the lack of variety in the environment and “enemies” makes the game’s visuals a bit repetitive. Of course, given the short length of the game, repetition isn’t really much of a problem; I completed it on normal difficulty in less than 2 hours (although once you beat it on Normal, you're given the option to play through all of the levels again at a higher difficulty setting). The audio likewise isn’t particularly noteworthy, but is clean and fits the mood of the game. However, those are minor quips against a game that isn’t trying to compete against the big budget, triple-A titles for your gaming attention. Rather, it’s the unique blend of gravity puzzles, old school platforming, and devilishly difficult let-me-try-that-just-one-more-time gameplay it offers that make it a worthy investment for five of your gaming dollars. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s oh-so-satisfying to finally pull off that last crazy jump.
Defy Gravity is currently available for the Windows PC platform. An Xbox Indie Games version is planned to be made available next month through the Xbox Live Games Marketplace. You can download a demo and purchase the full version of the PC release via the game’s homepage here.
Very unique gravity-based platforming gameplay
Nice gameplay mix that requires equal parts platforming skill and lateral thinking
The visuals are nothing special; a bit simplistic and repetitive
Yeah it is. We got an artist I found over the internet to do it and I requested it to be the girl putting her suit on, like getting ready to go out and shoot gravity at things. What I envisioned was her putting on her boots or her helmet, but what I got was a picture that looks more like her about to get naked for you than anything else.....you kinda have to work with what you're given though when you have next to no budget.
That said I've seen much worse on game covers than this.
We are looking at putting the game up on portals like steam, impulse, etc.
We can't easily port it to iphone or mac unfortunately. We would essentially have to remake the entire game to do it. Because of this we are investigating moving away from XNA and over to Unity for our next title.
I made about 90% of this game. I did pretty much all the game design, programming, and some of the art. All the art I did is not the best except I think the particle effects are pretty nice. So I didn't make the main sprite, the guns, or the backgrounds/splash screens. The backgrounds I found on deviant art and got permission to use/alter. The sprites I had custom made.
I'm pretty satisfied with the game/gameplay. I really just set out to make a game with fun and original gameplay, and I feel that I achieved that. Moving forward on our next title I hope to combine good game design with good art, so hopefully I can find some artists to work with.