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Gravity Hook HD: Like Icarus, to Fly Too High

June 17, 2011

Gravity Hook HD is about the climb. Actually, it’s about a population of people in an underground civilization who want to know how far up the surface is, but you know they’ll never find out. This is a game by Semi-Secret Software, after all — the mad geniuses behind Canabalt, the game that introduced the iPhone set to the appeals of twitchy, unending action games.

Samus? You in there?

Like Canabalt, the only action the player ever takes is touching the screen. Unlike Canabalt, the screen must be touched in a specific place in order for progress to happen. The player, as a little person in a surprisingly detailed little robot suit, starts off standing on the floor, looking up at a series of random-but-not targets. To advance, the player taps one of those targets, causing the little robot suit to send out a grappling hook to that target. Once the hook hits (which happens very quickly), the little robot suit is pulled up toward that target. Once the little robot suit is close enough to a new target to make another successful pull a reality, the player taps that new target, and Mr. or Mrs. Robot Suit is on his or her way to the heavens.

Inevitably, the player picks a target that is too far for the grappling arm to reach, or the player is pulled into a target that explodes. The robot suit falls to its inevitable demise, often divided into (presumably) thousands of individual, indistinguishable parts.

Gee, actually, when you think about it that way, playing Gravity Hook HD is a pretty morbid exercise.

Really, it’s a brilliant little game once its “people” stop being “people” and start being “things the player is launching into the sky”. Once you get used to its sense of physics, it makes perfect sense, and it quickly becomes one of those games in which you never feel as though you should have lost. Your finger slipped, or you should have seen, or you waited a little to long to…whatever, really. It’s not the game’s fault, it’s your fault, and that’s all the more reason to start it up again and have another go. All you’re looking for here is a high score, measured in how many meters you traveled. It’s not complicated.

What is interesting, though, is how many of the little things the Semi-Secret duo got right here — when the player is exploded by a target, the bits and pieces shower onto the next player, all lined up to try it again. The spacing of the targets is beautifully done, as they become just a little further apart depending on how much progress is made. Including some targets that can be traveled past and others that block progress is inspired, requiring some modicum of quick-thinking strategy to be employed, and offering the “classic”, original version of the game as a reward for a 500-meter climb is a nice bonus. Leaderboards that track daily, weekly, and all-time climbs even allow the player the pleasure of an obtainable top-10 posting somewhere.

Are there problems? Sure — running into a wall of red (that is, non-passable explosive) targets early in a climb can be frustrating, and the walls and ledges that creep in on the sides of the screen are often too dimly lit to be noticed amongst the brightly-colored targets and avatar.

Still, it’s hard to argue with a game whose simplicity, along with the probability that a single game will be finished in 30 seconds or less, inspires thousands of tries. Gravity Hook HD is about the climb, but it’s also about the inevitable fall. To not get back up, though, would feel too much like quitting.

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