Wield your powers of gravity manipulation to fend off a robot invasion. Perform impossible jumps, destroy enemies, and solve puzzles by bending gravity. Explore 20 challenging levels, 2 difficulty settings, and bonus unlockable content.
Now this is a game which knows what to do with its gravity based gameplay. Unlike the recent Defy Gravity which adopted a more hands off approach to its gravity manipulation, Saturnine Games' Antipole does it the traditional platformer way. Carmen Sandiago's husband has come across a Gravity Manipulator device which will allow him to reverse the gravitational pull within a large area around him, sending him off on a 20 level adventure full of puzzles and challenging situations which will test the limits of the Gravity Manipulator. Antipole's terrific gameplay and clever level design makes the experience a complete joy, but a few snags along the way keep the game from being an instant favorite.
The star of Antipole is without doubt its excellent gameplay. A brief tutorial level introduces players to the gravity mechanic which drives the game. At any point in time, the player can press the right trigger to launch a gravitational field which will lift the character and surrounding objects up. The transition is super smooth, the player able to run and swap fields to avoid pit lined pathways and other hazards without a break in the action. Despite looking as if he's been ripped straight out from the 1920's, our hero moves with the speed and accuracy of a ninja, dashing through levels seemingly invincible to anything the Developer throws at him. Comparisons to the excellent VVVVVV are understandable but incorrect, as our hero's power has its limits, and he does not need to alter gravity to jump. Using the Gravity Manipulator depletes an energy meter, limiting the player's ability to run along ceilings and whatnot for just a few seconds. The meter is quickly restored when not in use, but the limits keep the player in check and all the game's level design to work its magic.
Antipole's level design is really nice, 20 stages comprised of tight platforming challenges broken up into sections with every fifth level bringing out a boss battle. I really enjoyed how well the game is structured, levels never feeling repetitive in the least, each new grouping bringing forth new enemies and tactics to complete the stage. Low Gravity Lab has reduced gravity throughout the level, allowing the player to leap much higher than he normally would when jumping, while Waste Tunnels has the player using objects in the level to trip beams to open doors to the next section. The first boss found in Patrol Guard and the spider enemies in Spider Lair are capable of producing their own anti-gravity fields to mess with players' expectations of how the game should work. The difficulty progression is excellent, and the variety presented in Antipole made the hour plus long trip a blast to play.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is soured by lag. Yes, the kind of slowdown one might find stalling an on-line multi-player game rears its ugly head in Antipole and often at the worst possible time. When enemies are destroyed, they explode, and sometimes that explosion will seize up the game for a second or three. It's incredibly annoying. I loved playing around with the deadly liquid in Chemical Lab, but it does me no good to have a defeated enemy cause my character to run into said liquid because the game up and had a heart attack. This can be particularly infuriating on the latter two boss fights as Defense Tower and Command Center's battles are littered with exploding missiles, resulting in dozens of deaths from which the player has little recourse. Having to slow things down, pausing play every time an enemy is about to die really hurts the game's pacing and ruins the time trial nature of some of the challenges. Players will find it pretty much impossible to have any chance of nabbing the game's Speed Demon award, one of nine in Antipole, as rushing through the game puts the player at risk for death by slowdown.
Beyond that at times crippling drawback, Antipole's main character is also initially disorienting with how he quickly moves about the screen. He's a tall, lanky sprite, and his animation cycle just feels wrong with far too few steps shown to explain his movement. He slides more than runs, and although it's never so bad that it negatively impacts the gameplay, it's unnecessarily awkward. For the most part Antipole looks pretty good; the level graphics are flat but colorful, detailed, and varied, and the enemies are plentiful if a bit on the plain side. I don't understand why Saturnine Games went with a honeycomb look for the spider levels, but other than that oddity, the game maintains a consistent futuristic look which is pleasing enough to the eyes. It helps that there is very little animation in the game, and it's probably for the best given how poorly the protagonist is animated. He's an odd duck, his Tommy Gun and Dick Tracey style never meshing with the metal and laser future of Antipole.
While Antipole's artist may struggle animating things, its musician is terrific, crafting nine songs for the game's soundtrack, each completely listenable outside of the game. I particularly enjoyed "No Wrong Steps" and its atmosphere conveying a sort of impending doom. The well arranged electronic music is worth the price of admission alone, and the bonus challenges gained from collecting green coins help further extend Antipole's value. It's an excellent platformer when it works, and while issues with slowdown do sadly cripple some aspects of the game, Antipole remains a satisfying experience from start to finish, even considering the potential hurdles players will have to endure to make it to the end.