Defy Gravity is an action platformer that is a mix between Super Mario style platforming, Braid and Portal 2d. Kara, our heroine, has access to a unique gameplay mechanic that she uses to manipulate the world around her. Kara has a gun that is able to alter the laws of physics through the creation of pockets of gravity and anti-gravity.
Kara looks tired. The heroine of Fish Factory Games' Defy Gravity has listless eyes on the cover, grabbing her ample bosom in a weak attempt at a bait-and-switch as if to say, "Check these out. Buy my game. Oh, by the way, this is the last time you'll see 'em." If not for the cover artwork and the few lines setting up the premise, players would be hard pressed to recognize the player sprite as the somewhat shapely woman beckoning players to join her along for a gravity defying adventure. A few lines explain to the player along with the well illustrated introduction artwork that Kara has entered an ancient alien monument and must penetrate its depths while avoiding security measures for... some reason. The plot is inconsequential, interested players only needing to know that Defy Gravity is true to its humdrum namesake, a passable platforming challenge across 15 levels in which Kara must utilize her gravity cannon to avoid a series of deadly traps. Though interesting enough to merit playing through the game, Defy Gravity waits too long to achieve its potential, spending far too long wading in the kiddie pool, afraid to embrace its unique platform gameplay until the final playable credits level.
Defy Gravity is centered around Kara's ability to shoot gravity- and anti-wells, little round pockets of energy which can distort gravity, either attracting or repelling Kara and objects from their location. Kara can shoot two of each twice while in the air but will need to touch the ground to reset them for some unexplained reason. She can activate a field around her to disregard the effects of either gravity effect, and some levels will force her to take on that ability for even more unexplained gameplay reasons. Since this alien monument is long deserted, Kara will not have to contend with any kind of foreign creatures as she travels to the exit. Instead, levels are populated by a handful of traps -- laser lined floors and walls, metal orbs, and deadly stars. Gold colored platforms and objects are affected by the cannon's gravity orbs as well, and though it feels odd to see the game only allow some items impacted by the gravity effects, it does add an additional challenge for when those elements creep into the game.
Although its ideas have merit, Defy Gravity feels confused. Its control isn't exactly smooth, the level design isn't particularly inspired, and the graphics and atmosphere is surprisingly dull given the potential of its setting. During the opening tutorial levels, Fish Factory does players a favor by using dotted colored circles to indicate where the gravity wells need to be placed to bypass obstacles, which is fine. The problem is that the game is still doing this by stage 12, the developer keeping the training wheels on for far too long, particularly with a short game such as this. Not every level treats the player this way, but for a game short on challenge and levels as it is, it's a bit off-putting to see the developer so hesitant to allow players to embrace the gameplay concepts it has spent so much of the game setting up. I get the feeling that Paul Fisch went into this project with a vision of a gravity based platformer but lacking any inspiration when it came time to design levels to populate the game. Stage 8 introduces a switch to activate platforms to reach an exit door, but the switch is located just under the door, a gameplay element never to be seen again. Stage 14 requires players to guide some gold platforms to the exit, a surprisingly easy task that late in the game except that riding the jittery collection of platforms results in some glitchy behavior. There are a couple of forced scrolling levels, but the relatively relaxed pace and tepid challenges makes them a cakewalk, even before taking in account the unlimited lives and generous checkpoints the game doles out to the player. It's unfortunate that the game doesn't come into its own until the 16th stage, a playable credits level which require multiple well placed gravity shots to reach the exit.
The graphics are nice in parts but, again, don't feel particularly inspired. The alien monument is a sea of gray walls capped with a starfield background. The drab look of the enemies may suit the security measures theme, but they're still not much to look at. Kara herself has a jerky way of aiming, rotating the right analog stick not resulting in smooth movements on the player sprite. I like the little jetpack flare accompanying her double jumps, but her sprite remains a lackluster character devoid of personality or style. I can appreciate the clean level design which allows players to readily identify obstacles and goals, but that doesn't mean we can't have pleasing visual elements and a sense of style to go with it. Likewise, with a game as simplistic looking as Defy Gravity, I would expect the development time to have gone into offering a lengthy experience, but that's not the case here, either. In addition, while I like the challenge presented in the playable credits stage, the ending itself is rather weak, three lines of narration and a simple "You Won" graphic. While the game doesn't have the look of a Flash title, it nonetheless feels like one thanks to the weak production values and brevity of the adventure.
Despite all of its shortcomings, Defy Gravity still remains an interesting concept though questionably executed, like a clunky, shorter version of Urban Space Squirrels. The final challenge the player undertakes shows a lot of promise, but it's too little, too late for Defy Gravity, a game which takes far too long to get off the ground. The game is worth a look for platform fans and anyone interested in playing around with the concept, and at 80 Microsoft points its low risk to give it a try. It's just unfortunate that the game's length isn't enough to reward players for buying into the concept.