Gravitron is a retro styled arcade gravity shooter boasting stylized neon vector graphics in which you must pilot your way through some of the most devious terrains ever devised. Destroy subterranean bases and indigenous life forms while avoiding traps and depleting fuel. Rescue stranded scientists and get out of there before the planet explodes. Over 70 stages and 4 exclusive game modes.

I wonder if Bizarre Creations had any idea how much it would influence the game industry with Geometry Wars. Not only did that single game usher in a wave of twinstick shooters Eugene Jarvis could only dream of doing, but it also greatly influenced what modern retro style is to be with the clean, simple vector lines of old married to fancy particle effects and bright neon lit graphics available today. Most modern Developers invoking the classic designs have adhered to Bizarre Creations' New Testament, and Developer Ron Bunce has given his Sunday school lessons form with Gravitron360, a modern take on the arcade hit Gravitar.

The main difference between Gravitar and Gravitron360 is that the player is no longer traveling from planet to planet to access the game's worlds but instead goes through the 70 plus stages sequentially as with pretty much all shooters. Beyond that loss of flexibility in stage selection, Gravitron360 borrows the basic premise of its arcade inspiration while including a number of additions to keep it feeling fresh and interesting. The player's ship is equipped with both forward and rear and can safely attach itself to any flat plane when positioned correctly. Landing is a must for completing the secondary goal of each level, rescuing the scientists trapped upon each world. Scientists restore some of the ship's shield should it have taken damage during the rescue, and fuel pods will refill the ship's fuel when near, exploding once its supply is completely drained. It is important that the ship stay healthy and fully stocked to complete its primary objective, damaging all reactors on the world and leaving orbit before they explode to advance to the next planet.

The worlds here are fantastic and expand upon the Gravitar formula considerably. In addition to the numerous caverns and twisting passages, Gravitron360 introduces all kinds of doors and moving platforms to mix things up. Omicron Theta, for example, delivers a huge, constantly rotating world in which the ship must enter and find its way to the core before escaping, keeping mindful of the stage's ever changing position. What initially seems like a simple exercise in skimming the surface or dropping down a bit to find reactors and scientists soon becomes an exercise in seeing which route is need, which doors to unlock, walls to shoot down, and how to best make it through the level while retaining enough fuel to escape once finished. The enemy variety is marvelous as well, beginning with the simple turrets from the arcade classic and then swiftly moving things along with mines, tanks, homing rockets, laser barriers, and flying and leaping enemies. The enemies are relentless, particularly later in the game as room to evade is sparse and threats come from multiple angles. While the player can activate a shield which keeps it from harm and reflect enemy shots, which are the only way to earn points from defeated foes, using the shield quickly drains the ship's fuel supply making it a viable option but one which cannot be abused to coast through the game.

A simple local high score list keeps track of points which are earned primarily from rescued scientists (worth 100 points) and each unit of fuel and shields remaining after exit (worth 10 points). Gravitron360 is timed but only for bonus points, which the player forfeits if he or she cannot complete the objectives soon enough. Extra lives are awarded every 30,000 or so points, but the game automatically saves after every level, leaving the excess lives more for continuing from any available check points the player has activated upon death. Dying is a frequent occurrence on normal, the higher of two difficulty options, as the ship can only stand about three hits before exploding while the easy setting is far more forgivable, letting players absorb hits and pinball off walls without much consequence. Gravitron360 is tough but fair, and players can adjust the ship's sensitivity and select one of four different control schemes to ensure every death is born of the player's own fault. If the dozens of levels still aren't enough challenge, Bunce throws in a separate challenge mode consisting of 20 levels, tests which ask players to race through checkpoints, rescue scientists under a strict time limit, destroy reactors by deflecting enemy shots, and using the ship's tractor beam to transport a bomb without blowing up the place.

Gravitron360 is an incredible game which offers loads of content in one attractive neon package. The display is uncluttered (with the useless overscan option turned off) and everything looks clean and sharp, perhaps not as fancy as Geometry Wars and lacking any real special effects, but still plenty good in its own right. Initially I pined for some kind of zoom as found in Gravitar since I wish I had a larger view of the playfield on the larger and more maze-like levels, but it wasn't long before I adjusted to the closer view of the action. With nearly 100 levels of action and an excellent yet unobtrusive retro soundtrack, Gravitron360 is surely a must purchase for the Gravitar fan and any person looking for a fun and challenging old school shooter.

September 4, 2010
August 25, 2010 | 80 points
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