As the world spun and shifted before my eyes I thought, “Am I drunk?” The answer is yes, without a doubt, but there was another, far less depressing, reason that the world was tilting every which way. I was playing Airscape: The Fall of Gravity.
The gravity shifting platformer from Cross-Product puts you in the shoes, or tentacles rather, of a cute cartoonish octopus that must rescue his sea creature friends and family from the clutches of “the motorized menace,” which act as the robotic antagonists of the game. The gameplay is reminiscent of a 2-D version of Super Mario Galaxy. The player moves through an ever-changing environment, switching between dry land and underwater, but how you play in each environment is totally different. When on land, your octopus walks and jumps like a standard platformer, but in this game every platform has it’s own gravitational pull, so if you are jumping to a platform that is upside down and above you, your octopus will be pulled onto a new gravitational plane. When underwater, up and down basically cease to exist; your octopus propels himself through the water and the camera shifts and moves around you. The control scheme totally changes underwater also; the directional buttons are only used to orient yourself while the jump button is what actually propels you forward, think of the movement mechanic used in Asteroids. This mix of movement, physics, and gravity mechanics make control of your speed and momentum essential to avoiding the mechanized enemies and rescue your friends.
Your objective in each level is to find your sea critter pals and return them to a teleportation pad, but unlocking a new level isn’t dependent on rescuing every captured crab or imprisoned paddlefish in the previous stage. Rather, the total number of friends you have freed across all of the levels unlocks new sections of the games, so if there’s a critter that you just can’t get to in a certain stage, you can always leave it for later and move onto the next stage. As you rescue your sea creatures chums, some of them become available as playable characters, complete with their own custom abilities such as gliding and teleportation. These new abilities become a part of your arsenal to help you avoid mines, dodge lasers, and escape killer robots as well as allowing you to gain access to previously unreachable locations. Collecting new octopi also gives the game a replayability factor because, once unlocked, new octopi can be used on any previous level.
Don’t let the cute cartoon aesthetic fool you; Airscape is a seriously challenging game. Near perfect aim and timing are often needed to slip through the game’s many obstacles. However, the developer has employed a variation on the standard checkpoint system to help mitigate the game’s difficulty. Once a checkpoint has been activated you can return to it every time you find a new critter, giving them the ability to respawn with you in case you die. This small change is a welcome addition to the gameplay and certainly cuts down on frustration.
From a game design standpoint, Airscape is beautiful. All the characters have a cute, cartoonish art style and the environments are beautifully illustrated. There is also a lot of variation in the look of each of the levels. As you progress through the game your brave little octopus will travel through tropical beaches, snowy peaks, the Deep Ocean, and even space. With each environment new and inventive gameplay mechanics are introduced, which does a lot keep the gameplay fresh from level to level. I am also relieved to report that I personally never had any problems with nausea as a result of the rotating camera, which was definitely a concern I had before playing.
The sound design in the game is also excellent. The game’s music is cheerful and perfectly matches the art style. One particularly pleasing element is how the sound changes when moving in and out of the water. As you enter the water all of the sound, even the in-game music, becomes slightly muted as if you are actually hearing it underwater. This gives the game an immersive quality that truly makes you feel like you are moving into a different environment.
As far as problems with Airscape, they are few and far between. From a gameplay standpoint the only real criticism I have is that when shifting from one gravitational plane to another, I would sometimes end up moving in a direction opposite to what I had intended. This lead to my death a few times but it happened so infrequently that I am hesitant to even call it a bug. Airscape: The Fall of Gravity is an excellently crafted action platformer. The game’s difficulty will prove to be a challenge to most gamers but never becomes punishingly difficult. The variety of level designs, gameplay mechanics, and characters keep the game feeling fresh right through the end.