With the likes of Donkey Kong ‘94, Catrap, Toki Tori, and more, the puzzle platformer genre featured some of the best games on the Game Boy and GBC. Puzzle games in general are a great fit for a portable device with their often deceptively deep mechanics and pick-up-and-play gameplay. So when I came upon Gravitorque, a homebrew title first published as a work-in-progress, gravity-flipping puzzle platformer back in the days before GBS 3.0, I was intrigued to see what kinds of interesting puzzles Nikita Kurylev, the games clearly talented designer and coder would come up with.
Screenshots from the earlier release of Gravitorque’s Demo
Gravitorque was at this stage, a small collection of puzzles. It featured a central mechanic that allowed the player to cycle the direction of gravity by pressing ‘A’. No jumping, just a unique central mechanic and several level layouts to show just how mind-bending this mechanic could get.
This Gravitorque demo was in fact the second iteration of Nikita’s idea, the first created using GameMaker Studio in 2017. With only a couple of test levels completed, this prototype was soon shelved, making room for other projects. In 2022, Nikita decided to complete an unfinished project of his, and eager to try out GB Studio for the first time, fixed his eyes on remaking this prototype since it seemed a good fit for the Game Boy.
The prototype was demade to work within the restrictions of the Game Boy and GB Studio 2beta5, dressed up in a science fiction theme, and then released as a small, but enticing demo on itch.io. Suffice to say, I was impressed and the game promised to offer something very atypical of the previous GBS titles that came before it. Being the puzzle fanatic that I am, I was hopeful that Gravitorque would eventually see a fully formed release.
In March of 2023, that day came. A full version of Gravitorque, complete with additional puzzle mechanics and thirty cleverly designed puzzles! But despite my enthusiasm for its initial demo, I must admit, the release of this title caught me at a busy time and so the day of its release not only came but also unfortunately went. All in all, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but having played it now and enjoyed it thoroughly, I would be remiss if I didn’t give Gravitorque and its dev team a little time in the spotlight by sharing my thoughts on such a well designed little experience.
After a crash landing on an unknown space station, you are thrown from your wrecked ship with nothing but a working space suit and the equipment strapped strapped to your back. Traverse through 3 aesthetically distinct zones and 30 levels by solving tricky gravity cycling-based puzzles using your gravitational torque modifier unit. You will need to use all your brain power if you are to get back to your ship and make a safe getaway!
Gravitorque wastes none of the player’s time from the get go. After a brief cutscene to set up its simple premise, the player is thrust into the gameplay. The initial puzzles do an excellent job of tutorializing the gravity cycling mechanic cleanly and comprehensively. The level design is succinct, slowly ramping up the complexity of each newly introduced mechanic and allowing the player to experiment without becoming overwhelmed too soon. It parallels the philosophy of one of my favorite pick-up-and-play puzzlers for the Game Boy, Catrap, of which I have explored in my learning by doing classic spotlight article. Many of the levels are a single screen in size, which allows for all the information to be in view at one time and forces the level design to remain focused. When the levels are larger in scope and go beyond the bounds of the Game Boy screen, the ideas thankfully don’t become overworked and lose their direction. With transportational rifts in space, context sensitive buttons and more, there is enough variation in the mechanics throughout the game’s progression to keep your interest piqued and carry you through to the end with ease.
The music by Ivan Shishkin is engaging. Adventurous at times with a quiet undertone of foreboding mystery, it works well with the game’s science fiction theme. My criteria for great puzzle music has always been: if I’m not sick of the music by the time I have seen the credits scroll then it’s top notch! The SFX are particularly rich and rewarding, especially when collecting the optional “cog” collectible.
Artist Maxim Artemenkov did a great job with the artwork. The character animations are certainly the highlight to me. While the palette design is perhaps too similar to the default GBS palettes and doesn’t feel quite at home in the dangerous space setting, the graphics themselves are detailed and full of character. Of particular note is the handling of the readability on screen, in that each art element works well to support its function superbly.
With one cog to be found per level, this optional collectible offers a second layer of perplexity if you’re so inclined. Trying to collect them all certainly had me scratching my head in some instances, and it’s always excellent to see a developer consider optional post-credit content.
Nikita and his team have created an excellent little game that is equal parts unique in the now very large pool of GBS games out in the wild and tight in its design. You will likely complete Gravitorque in about half an hour (a little more if you want to see its true ending). It’s a great example of concise design, keeping exploration of ideas lean, not letting ideas overstay their welcome and ensuring the experience is short and sharp for the benefit of the player!
Thanks to Nikita Kurylev for sharing so much of their dev journey for this article. You can play Gravitorque here.