It’s true that developing for the correct platform can propel your game forwards in order to realise the original vision and deliver a well-considered game, built specifically for the target platform. Gravity Badgers was previously a smartphone title prior to its Vita release and it shows; the Vita does share common ground with many smartphones thanks to its glorious touch screen, but simply porting a mobile title over to the Vita isn’t necessarily a recipe for success and it certainly shows in the case of Gravity Badgers.
At its most basic, Gravity Badgers is a touchscreen physics based puzzler set in space where I assume the Gravity Badgers are battling against their rivals, the honey badgers and other space based alien mutants. I say assume because Gravity Badgers barely has a plot; even when it does attempt to introduce static story screens between worlds and/or levels, it does so in an extremely derivative manner and it’s highly unlikely players will care enough to be sucked into. It’s not the worst attempt at minimal story I’ve encountered but it feels like Gravity Badgers very much sat on the fence rather than committing to, or completely omitting, a solid story.
In terms of gameplay, I’ll cut to the chase; Gravity Badgers is essentially Angry Birds in Space with badgers replacing the birds and evil pigs. Gravity Badgers tries to differentiate itself with floating ice blocks which can be used to launch in any direction and planets with push/pull gravitational forces making you think over the trajectory of your next move. As the game goes on, other obstacles such as alien enemies will block your path and timing of your moves becomes an increasingly important aspect of the gameplay.
There are still a lot of similarities between the two titles however, such as the pull back to launch action to get your badger moving. If you have somehow managed to avoid Angry Birds up until now, you’re probably entering Gravity Badgers with a little bit of an advantage. Anyone who has played Angry Birds will instantly be able to recognise the strengths of the title against Gravity Badgers – the control scheme is tighter and more fluid in Angry Birds than Gravity Badgers and the aiming indicators are also significantly more useful in Angry Birds.
Gravity Badgers is solid at doing what it does, but the core mechanics will feel slightly more unwieldy than Angry Birds in direct comparison. The touchscreen controls are functional and do a good job on the Vita, making it fairly easy to play. The analog stick controls however, not so much – aiming using the left stick feels oddly imprecise and unpredictable, which is a shame as the sticks are easier to control while holding the Vita as opposed to touchscreen play. The games’ short levels are perfect for on-the-go or quick bursts of gaming though, allowing you to drop in and out as you please without needing to lose any progress.
Gravity Badgers also introduces boss battles at the end of each chapter, with these providing by far the most interesting gameplay as you not only manoeuvre to avoid boss attacks, but also towards the boss to cause it damage. The battles are faster and more intense than the usual slow-paced gameplay, making it significantly more interesting and rewarding, although at times it can be a little difficult to pull of precision movements and attacks at speed following several slow paced levels before.
The bosses are also the highlight of the graphics in Gravity Badgers. The developers clearly spent time working on the bosses and their animations, and it pays off – they’re bright, brazen and full of character. In terms of visuals overall, Gravity Badgers is mostly functional without spectacle. Static space scenes provide the changing backdrops for each world. Your badger is lively and animated with the games’ planets, ice blocks, standard enemies and teleporters all functional but unremarkable. On a smaller smartphone screen many of the assets probably looked more detailed, but when scaled up on the Vita screen it can often feel a little barren and lacking in the fine details.
Gravity Badgers isn’t a bad game, despite its shortcomings, but it really does feel like it should be played on a smartphone rather than the Vita. There isn’t much support for the Vita’s buttons, even in the menus – almost the entire experience is touchscreen, which is a little disappointing, especially when you have to lean your thumbs over the physical controls and buttons in order to interact with the touchscreen. As mentioned previously, you can use the left stick to aim, but it’s hugely unlikely you’ll opt to use this due to its wild inconsistency, and even if you do, occasionally it simply doesn’t work at all and you are required to revert back to touchscreen controls.
Gravity Badgers just feels like a smartphone title that’s been ported, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s difficult to imagine players choosing to have Gravity Badgers on their Vita memory cards when almost identical, and far superior, titles are available from mobile phones’ app store at a smaller cost. Comparing Gravity Badgers against other titles that have made the smartphone to Vita jump; it is a little disappointing at the lack of Vita optimisation. For example, Table Top Racing makes use of other Vita inputs such as the rear touchpad, the game looks more detailed and performs generally better than Gravity Badgers overall. It’s amazing what a little work on optimization can achieve.
Gravity Badgers struggles to stack up against almost anything that the Vita currently offers. Even at the fairly low price of £3.99, Gravity Badgers feels like a clone experience you can easily pick up elsewhere on any device, for cheaper. There are 150 levels to complete, and it takes some time to plough through them, so there’s certainly a case for Gravity Badgers’ longevity. It will ultimately boil down to whether players wish to battle through 150 levels of disappointing, imprecise gameplay to complete the game as to whether that longevity will hold any value.