Mega Man has spawned quite a lot of inspiration over the years in the platforming genre. With the rise of indie games especially came a slew of popular titles like Shovel Knight. Today, we’ve got a new one from Domesticated Ant Games in the form of Gravity Circuit.
Super Fighting Robots
At the heart of Gravity Circuit is a game that combines elements from many different platformers over the years. Its most obvious draws come from the 2D Mega Man titles, specifically the original series, X, and especially Zero.
Taking control of the titular Gravity Circuit named Kai, you’ll blast through an assortment of levels that you can complete in any order. Each level has a specific theming and set of gimmicks, as well as a boss to take on at the very end. Again, it’s very blatantly Mega Man in its inspiration, but this isn’t a bad thing at all.
All of the levels are on the shorter side of things and feel very focused on bringing out the most in their gimmicks and theming. There’s a level where you explore a giant area on fire, dodging lasers in a way that’s very reminiscent of Quick Man’s stage from Mega Man 2. There’s a computer-based level where you’ll navigate against disorienting environments and jump across disappearing pits, and more. The quality of the level design across the entire game is very consistent across the board. There wasn’t a single point in the game that I didn’t at least enjoy quite a lot.
Scattered across each level are civilian robots that you need to rescue in order to further unlock skills to boost Kai’s abilities. Even as someone who considers themselves quite thorough when it comes to platformers, I had a tough time finding a lot of these guys. They’re tucked away in some very creative and hard-to-reach areas that really force you to leverage all you can from Kai’s base toolkit.
All around, I adored much of the level design in Gravity Circuit. Where it lacks in being particularly original, it considerably makes up for through a rock-solid understanding of what makes a compelling platform game. Even long after having finished the game, all of the stages stick out in my mind quite clearly.
Gravity Circuit’s Skills
The very first thing about Gravity Circuit that I took notice of are the absolutely spot-on controls and handling. There is zero input delay and everything has the perfect amount of weight and speed to it. Actions are a commitment, but feel razor-sharp at the same time. The moment you play this game, you’ll be nothing less than comfortable with its smooth-as-silk controls. It helps to get easily adjusted to Kai’s rather complex moveset.
Kai can jump, wall jump, slide, dash, grab ledges, and so forth. All things you’d expect from a game like this, but he can additionally use a grappling hook that can be thrown in any direction. The grappling hook can stick to walls and ceilings, allowing you to gain further horizontal distance as necessary. If you’re quick and skillful in using it, you can also shimmy across long distances and avoid many platforming challenges outright.
That’s not all the grappling hook is good for, as it can also be used to attack enemies from a distance. Kai lacks a projectile attack, so he’ll have to get up close and personal to deal large amounts of damage quickly. When enemies take enough damage, they’ll become grayed out. When this happens, you’re given the ability to pick them up and throw them in any direction. Combat can become sort of rhythmic as I grab and toss enemies at a breakneck pace.
The last element of combat are equippable attacks that you can charge as enemies are defeated. This can come in many different forms, such as a giant laser beam, a pile-driver, a shock wave, or a rising uppercut. I only fooled around with maybe half of these, as you have to buy them with money found in stages and for completing levels. Mastering them is difficult, but understanding which contexts to use these skills in is a deeply rewarding affair. Sub-bosses that could take two minutes to defeat may only take a few seconds as soon as you understand which skills to use where.
There are additionally many alterations you can make to Kai’s base characteristics. How fast he falls, whether he can double jump, how far he slides, and so on. You can only use up to three modifications at a given time, so balancing which to use at a given time has a lot more weight. Personally, I got tons of mileage out of the double jump, but which mods are best is an answer that’s going to vary from player to player.
Big Boss Battles
The boss fights in Gravity Circuit are hyper-aggressive tests of the player’s twitch reflexes, game knowledge, and ability to outmaneuver the enemy. They are fast, hit hard, and will more than likely have you stuck on them for a while if you play on Hard Mode like I did. At first, many of them felt impossible as their movement speeds, attack power, and overwhelming attack patterns left me stumped on how to properly deal with them. But with each death came me whittling down their health bars just a little bit more every time. They’re simply the best kinds of bosses that games like this really need.
Unlike in Mega Man, bosses do not have any kind of attack weaknesses to speak of. Rather, if players hope to deal more than a scratch of damage at a time, they must learn their movesets carefully and fully exploit what scant safe openings they get. Hard Mode generally means that you’re dead within just a few hits, so bobbing and weaving in and out of the enemy’s line of fire becomes critical to survival. Each boss also has a distinct arena where the player has to keep track of some things. Some may have bottomless pits, more platforms, rocks may fall from the ceiling, and so on.
Lastly, each boss also comes equipped with their own desperation attack. After being brought down to roughly half of their hit points, they’ll become invincible for a brief period and use a hyper-aggressive attack that’s extremely punishing and even more difficult to avoid. Players on Hard Mode are, frankly, likely going to die to pretty much all of these until they learn them. It’s very rewarding when you do learn how to dodge them, and adds to the game’s overall feeling of steadily getting better through steadily mastering how to best use Kai’s abilities.
Bosses in Gravity Circuit are perhaps the highlight of the entire experience and are masterfully made across the board. Like the levels they inhabit, each one ended up being incredibly memorable.
For A More Robotic Age
Some time ago, a meteor filled with monsters struck the robot-inhabited world of tomorrow. A group of robots called Circuits apprehended the threat momentarily, but now that monster army threatens the world once again. What’s more, eight of the Circuits who previously defended the world have gone rogue and risk worsening the situation. The only thing standing between total annihilation is the last good Circuit named Kai, an amnesiac who completely forgot his memory.
If you’re thinking this is a familiar and clichéd setup, that’s because it is. Most story beats and lore are pretty much lifted wholesale from various Mega Man stories, most notably the X series. Despite that, it doesn’t really do anything interesting with that. A lot of this mostly falls onto Kai, who’s kind of a big bore to watch. Over the course of the story, we learn nothing about his beliefs, personality, or why he comes to blows with the other Circuits.
This is especially frustrating because the story constantly threatens to say something interesting. All of the Circuits are implied to have a personal reason for why they’ve gone rogue, but it’s kept vague for no true reason. Although they pose some seemingly interesting questions to the audience and Kai, nothing is done with it. Every time Kai is given the opportunity to say something interesting, he’ll respond with a “…” without fail. The questions he’s posed are never meaningfully followed up on. Maybe this was done in service of allowing the player to speculate on what he’s thinking, but it didn’t come across as that.
Overall, the story of this game is frustrating. It’s not particularly original and borrows many elements from its inspirations, but unlike the gameplay, it completely fails to capitalize on that.
Visuals and Audio
Gravity Circuit looks and runs like an absolute dream. Sprite artwork is nostalgic, yet detailed. Colors are vibrant and moody at once, and most importantly the game is easy to read. With how frantic the game gets, I never once felt like I was under any kind of sensory overload. Things move quickly, but big sprites and great animations carry exactly the visual info that they need to.
Stages and character designs are also excellent. Many designs and setpieces evoke a sort of 80s vibe, with robots seeming like big, walking action figures instead of something sleek and cool. It’s charming in a rather cartoonish way, and animations are usually exaggerated to match that.
Lastly, the audio is excellent. Sound effects are crunchy and immensely satisfying, using a mixture of chiptune and more modern flourishes that fits the visuals perfectly. The same applies to the soundtrack, which is great. Chiptune is underscored by bass and acoustics, giving the music a vibe similar to soundtracks from PC Engine games.
Gravity Circuit is a damn good time. Although it doesn’t really do anything particularly original, it molds concepts taken from its many inspirations in fresh and smart ways. It wears its heart on its sleeve and is better off for doing so. From the moment I first took control of Kai in the tutorial, I knew the game was gonna be something great. After the hours it took to beat it, the game has thoroughly proven me right. It’s brisk, immeasurably satisfying, and one of the best platformers I’ve played all year.
GRAVITY CIRCUIT IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to PID Games for a PC review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt