Grapple is a charming little puzzle platformer from a team of five developers called the Tuesday Society, based in Dallas. There’s plenty of competition for cheap indie platform games on PC and this contender is one worth your time, although it won’t take up much of it.
If you’re looking for plot then you’ll be disappointed, this is as simple as motivation can get. You are an unspecified blob of goop jumping a series of platforms suspended in space; you reach a black hole at the end and the next series of platforms are revealed. So everything hinges on the gameplay, which is more than adequate to keep you engaged. Mechanics are introduced in good time, starting out with basic jumps, sticking to and underneath walls then quickly moving to swinging with the titular grapple.
This is where the game really takes off; the swinging mechanic is fun, well implemented and very reminiscent of the fantastic Spiderman 2 for PS2. Most puzzles heavily involve swinging in order to reach, traverse or avoid platforms; it’s this clever level design that will stick in your mind. Momentum is often key, forcing you to fall a great distance, swinging from an object at high-speed and propelling yourself onto a distant platform across the yawning chasm of space. There were some genuine moments of vertigo as I reached terminal velocity and catapulted myself past a scattershot of obstacles and reached the wormhole to end the level.
There are other mechanics to increase the complexity of the puzzles; red platforms will kill you, blue are safe and shiny gold platforms bounce you (often straight into a red platform). There are also force fields which you can land on and be killed by, but you cannot swing from them; you will learn to hate the puzzles involving swinging between layers of these red force fields; be thankful that checkpoints are quite regular. The platforms themselves are also varied, involving corner platforms, spheres, cubes and other basic shapes. This allows for some enjoyable challenges like swinging around corners and through small gaps at high-speed.
Some levels take a slightly different approach, where there will be many objects scattered around empty space and your task is to either avoid them or use them to reach the end point. This brings a true Spiderman feeling of swinging between each object to the end point at speed that is rare to find executed so well. Cannons are also used in later levels to create instant momentum; which can bring a certain satisfaction to fire out of a cannon, swing around a lethal platform and successfully hitting the bounce pad underneath, launching your ball of matter to the next safe zone.
The intelligent level design and solid physics make the game what it is; a simple colour scheme and intuitive puzzles that rarely confuse just add sweet icing on the cake. There are certain points in the game that will annoy, difficulty spikes vary even within a level and this does great. But there are more than enough mad drops and ‘hell yeah’ moments to balance this out, especially considering that the game is only three hours long, it really doesn’t overstay its welcome. The soundtrack also does a brilliant job of calming you down and hyping you up at the right moments, creating a nice spaced out atmosphere while you fall around the dark abyss of nothing.
The few gripes that I picked up while playing would be the occasional annoying puzzles, the slightly too short grapple distance and a camera that occasionally freaks out and stops you from moving. The lack of length might break the deal for some, but I quite like a shorter puzzle game; Portal proved that a short game can bring immense satisfaction, and that a puzzle game really shouldn’t push its luck when it comes to length as this can prolong any annoyance.
An organic approach to solving the challenges is used, much like Trine, where the techniques available to you can be used to circumvent the problem itself. This allows you to finish some levels in ways that aren’t intended, for example swinging around and on top of a platform to avoid the layers of red force fields underneath. Some might consider this breaking the game; I think it’s a more unique way to overcome a challenge, especially considering methods both unconventional and intended are quite difficult. Sometimes this isn’t possible and you are boxed in to a solution, but it isn’t too bad given how fun it can be; the final level of the 90 is a great example of this and is one hell of a difficult and fun task.
This is an odd game I guess, from the complete lack of narrative or a need of one, to the unusual protagonist and locale; it’s also unique in how it can balance a mostly fair difficulty with tremendous fun. For that alone I would fully recommend this game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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