First impressions are tough. So are second impressions. Sometimes you can immediately get a sense of what you’re walking into, other times not so much. That first line is an example of the latter, so is Gravity Lab, the game I’ve been playing this week. At its core this is just a three-star physics puzzler, but it’s also much more than that, and also a little less… Sorry, very confusing, I’ll explain.
Visually, Gravity Lab is stunning. It’s really high quality 3D animation, and uses the Unity Engine as well as any game I’ve seen. Seriously, the opening cutscene instantly made me like this game (great first impression!). Then I started playing, and immediately wanted to go back and watch the cutscene a few more times. The first dozen or so levels of this game are absolutely… unimpressive. In fact almost the entire first Lab did nothing to differentiate itself from Angry Birds or the scores of other physics puzzlers out there, besides having really nice graphics (that would be a bad second impression…). Whether it was the graphics, my curiosity, or just the fact that I’d sat down to play this game and wanted to give it more than a couple minutes, I kept playing. It's a good thing too, because when I did, I found something pretty great.
Oooohhh pretty...I still wouldn’t say that Gravity Lab revolutionizes gaming or even the physics puzzler, but it certainly has enough going for it to keep me occupied, the problem is that it took quite a while getting there. The game has you drag and shoot a little robot named Steve around a zero-G space, hitting blocks and collecting stars. Steve can’t touch the stars or he zooms away, but the blocks nab the pointy little things and are your keys to success. The levels get interesting when the blocks start changing their gravitational pulls and outside forces like portals and trampolines are thrown into the mix.
I blew through the entire first Lab in one train ride, needing more than one try on just a handful of the first 30 levels, and feeling largely unsatisfied. In fact, it took until the very end of the opening Lab to find any challenging puzzles at all. As I said earlier, this changed over time and I’ve since found myself stuck on levels for frustratingly long, but I believe the lag in getting to this step could be a major turnoff to less patient players. It seems the developers weighted the quantity of levels over the quality, but may have miscalculated.
The decision to back-load the better (and more challenging) levels is a curious one, but it’s almost certainly an impact of the developers’ larger plan for the game. As a free-to-play title, Gravity Lab utilizes one of my favorite monetization methods: selling additional content. You can play the entire game for free if you go start to finish, or you can pay $3.99 to unlock later Labs, extra levels, and a whole bonus game. This is certainly an explanation for the boring levels being first - the developers are tempting you into paying if you like the overall gameplay, but are craving more of a challenge. It also allows both paying and non-paying users to have the experience they want with the game, and even stays away from that gross pay-to-win label. Buying all the levels will also allow you to play Gravity Lab offline, a uniquely shrewd feature unavailable to non-paying customers.
I will say that after getting to the bonus levels I was a little underwhelmed, but that’s not as negative as it may seem. The chase to unlock the bonus stages was such a challenge in itself that unless the prizes were phenomenal it wouldn’t really compare. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, but that does say how much I enjoyed nearly perfecting the game in the process. There are both bonus levels and a completely separate bonus game. The levels feature both green stars - which only Steve, not the blocks, can capture - and red stars - which can't be touched at all - and several different kinds of challenges. The bonus game, meanwhile, is essentially an endless runner mode (okay, it’s not technically endless, but I don’t think I’ve made it more than a quarter way through, so it might as well be) that’s been the hardest thing so far. You can buy extra lives and continues for the bonus game, serving as the only IAP other than the level unlock and plenty of hats.
Overall, this is a really good game that makes a great first impression visually, and a really so-so first play through. If you can make it past the first twenty or so levels you’ll really like Gravity Lab, and if you can’t, well there’s still the tutorial to watch over and over. Even ignoring the first chunk of levels which you should fly through, the game provides a lot of depth and a fair amount of replayability, and it’s definitely worth a look.
Gravity Lab is available for free on both iOS and Android. You can also get it on BlackBerry World for $0.99, making it two weeks in a row that I’ve played a game that’s actually available on a platform other than iOS and Android, so that’s cool.
Josh Dombro Community Manager