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Gravity Circuit deserves its place among the retro classics it clearly admires

Basic Stats

System reviewed: PC/Steam (also available on Switch, PS5)

Genre(s): Platformer, Action

Developer: Domesticated Ant Games

Publisher: PID Games

Released: 13 July 2023

Did I finish: Yes


Price: Bought during release discount for $15.29, regular price $16.99 at the time

Review Video:

Gravity Circuit logo

I grew up loving Mega Man, despite the steep difficulty preventing me from ever finishing one until adulthood. Still, I returned to the series again and again. When I started speedrunning, these types of games were an obvious place to start, with tight controls, predictable patterns, and constant action.

Many indie game developers had similar experiences with this massively popular and influential series. Naturally, they would want to craft their own twist on the formula, which is how we get wonderful experiences like 20XX.

Does this bias me toward these games? No, I'd argue the opposite. I'm even more critical of copycats because I’m intimately familiar with the ups and downs across Mega Man and its spin-off series, and I seek out similar games from the indie world.

Giant laser beam from a boss
These bosses don't mess around

Gravity Circuit is a love letter to the Mega Man series without being a clone, using clear homages to pull on nostalgia strings. But at its core, the game is more about melee attacks and the hookshot, sometimes drifting more toward Super Smash Bros. than the Blue Bomber.

The setup is typical Mega Man, borrowing the intro stage idea from Mega Man X (although 7 and 8 in the classic series did the same) and the base idea from Mega Man Zero. After the intro stage, you’re presented with a selection of eight stages, followed by a sequence of final areas, including the traditional boss refights.

Stage select screen
Nice to know what you're getting into

However, there’s one thing the selection of eight bosses does that Mega Man didn’t—and that a lot of the games inspired by it also missed—which is the “threat level.” This tells you how difficult the stage and the boss is, relative to the other stages and bosses. So you aren’t making an arbitrary decision—you’re making an educated one. I absolutely love this, although some of the meters are difficult to compare and could have benefited from number or letter designations.

If I look for problems with the game, they start with the tutorial. I see no need for them to have an entirely separate menu selection with a unique level when there was the perfect opportunity to tutorialize the intro stage. Even Deathchron (review coming soon) did this, and there are signposts built into the intro stage that could show textual instructions.

Even the tutorial is a bit weak, as it fails to force you to execute on the specific technique or input before proceeding. The room on using the hookshot to climb up platforms is particularly at issue here. Including walls on both sides of the platforms means you can simply climb up and miss the mechanic entirely.

Hanging over spikes with the hookshot in the ceiling
Hanging on for dear life

Speaking of the hookshot, though, I really like it. I found it easier to control and more intuitive than the chain rod in Mega Man Zero 2. Hitting an exact diagonal can sometimes be a struggle, but I thought it usually did what I wanted.

The real problem with the hookshot comes when you need to grip moving platforms or conveyor belts in the ceiling, then go up and down to avoid spikes or enemies. Grabbing at a diagonal in these areas is certain to get you killed. But I think that’s just another layer of challenge and learning.

I love that the hookshot doubles as a weak weapon, making you think on the fly about whether you want to close in on an enemy for more damage or keep them at a distance for less. It’s also worked nicely into the extra techniques, or Bursts, that you unlock throughout the game.

The booster and burst setup screen
This was my go-to "stage" combo

Bursts are the special weapon of the game, though they’re treated more like Super Smash Bros. techniques. You can assign up to four, with a neutral, side, up, and down variation. This allows for a deep level of customization to fit your playstyle, almost like constructing your own fighter.

You spend collected Bits to purchase Bursts, but unlock them from defetaing bosses. Each boss provides two bursts that act closely to their own special skills, which is great because there’s less chance of disappointment from getting an ability you don’t like. Not only can you choose between the two, you can skip both altogether.

Using a Burst takes one energy point, which you can recharge by collecting energy pickups. When you collect an energy pickup, it doesn’t give you an energy point—instead, you get a bit of energy charge. When this reaches 100%, you get an energy point. I found this confusing at first, but once I wrapped my head around it, it felt simpler than the alternative of having a separate energy meter and different techniques taking different amounts.

The chip shop
Lots of choices, if you save enough people

For even more customization, you can also spend bits on Enhancement Chips provide various alterations like increasing the power of health pickups, adding a double jump, or increasing the range of your melee attacks. You can only equip three of these chips at a time, but you can change them at will from the pause menu.

This is great because you can have different combinations of Chips for specific situations. By the end of the game, I got into the flow of one specific combination for levels and switching it up for bosses, which was very effective. But there were plenty of times where I had to think carefully about which chips to equip, especially once I got the double jump.

I can imagine a lot of backlash on the game for its short length, but to me, the quality overrides this factor. I’d rather have a short and sweet experience than a drawn out grind like Random Heroes (review forthcoming). And there’s plenty of replay value here.

Medley saying, "What's this? Did my performance lure in a fan?"
Yeah the music is pretty great

For those interested in lore, there are character, boss, and enemy chips to unlock additional info in the base. Every stage has eight civilians to rescue which unlock additional customization chips, plus an energy or health power-up. When you finish the game, you unlock a New Game+ mode to try from the start with all your unlocked upgrades.

Plus, the game has a lengthy list of challenges, some of which are terrifying. Finish a boss without taking damage? Avoid using Bursts through the entire stage? These are clearly experts only challenges, and you'll need a lot of practice to pull them off.

Finishing also unlocks Circuit Mode (and even Circuit Mode+) which adds an interesting twist. In this mode, when you run out of Energy for your Bursts, they use health instead. So, overall, you can use a ton more bursts throughout the stages—if you’re willing to take the risk.

On the point of difficulty, the game runs into the same problem of classic Mega Man that if you miss all the secret areas, it becomes significantly more difficult, because you’re limited on health and energy. I wouldn’t change this, though, because it makes finding a health or energy power-up feel great.

If you're worried about the game being too hard, you're in luck—there's an Easy Mode available right from the start. And if you're looking for more challenge, you can try Hard Mode. I play on Normal and thought it was an adequate challenge, with less friction than "NES hard" classics while providing plenty of difficulty.

Combined screens from four different levels
Obligatory ice and magma levels are here

The individual levels feature significant variety. Far from simple reskins, each area has its own unique mechanics and enemies. You’ll find springs and spike boxes with Wave Circuit, ride armor and conveyor belts with Break Circuit, switches and teleporters with Cipher Circuit, and more.

Shift Circuit is a cool stage overall but brought me back to my least favorite part of Mega Man 8, which is the Battletoads-inspired autoscroller. Alerts tell you when to jump or crouch, so it really tests your reflexes. The problem is that a single mistake forces you repeat the whole thing, so it feels like a tedious Simon Says exercise. Luckily, the sections are brief and not terribly difficult.

Overall, the game difficulty is reasonable. Each level provides plenty of checkpoints, often placed right after the peak escalation of obstacles, and these checkpoints refill your health. You can even pay Bits to refill your energy at the checkpoints.

Kai "dying" on spikes
Okay it looks like Kai is dying but honestly he's not

One mitigation to difficulty is that spikes, pits, and crushing objects aren’t instakill. Instead, you take immense damage before teleporting back to safe ground. It’s a nice compromise that keeps the obstacles threatening with less frustration.

The game amps up reasonably as you enter into the final levels, and the last boss is the ultimate test of your skills. I absolutely adore the way they handled refights. It’s classic and nostalgic but beautifully streamlined. I won’t spoil it here, though.

I won’t say the level design is perfect, but it’s pretty solid. A few parts could deal with a bit of extra stage to better signify which path is the “side” path. The design for marking breakable walls is great, since it’s often subtle enough to miss easily, but easy to see if you’re really looking—there might be a small crack, or a missing bit of wall texture, or simply a corridor leading you toward the wall.

As a final note, the game includes a lot of dialogue, but it's short and snappy and never overstays its welcome. I particularly appreciate the variation in text printing speed that lends to some real laugh-out-loud moments. Great writing, overall.

Gravity Circuit is a short but sweet nostalgic experience I struggled to put down

If you like Mega Man, or any similar classic action platformer series like Ninja Gaiden or Power Blade, you should definitely try this game. The art and animation is fantastic, the soundtrack is amazing, and the gameplay and level design are the tightest I've experienced in recent memory. Maybe a little on the expensive side, but worth every penny over most of its kind.


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