Tuesday, September 14, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Isaac Newton's Gravity Review

Namco is confusing me. I spent a couple of moments playing “Isaac Newton’s Gravity” and feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. Then my brain caught up and I realized that I was playing “Professor Heinz Wolff’s Gravity,”  a PC game from a couple years back. I guess Professor Wolff (who appears to be a real person, although the bow tie gives me some doubts) wasn’t enough of a marquee name, so he was bumped in favor of Sir Isaac for Namco’s mobile port of the game.

This a pretty straightforward “Incredible Machine”-style physics game. It has 50 puzzles, which is about half as many as the original game, and Isaac Newton providing some commentary. Visually, it’s fairly appealing, but the graphics are little more than nice backgrounds and the infrastructure for each puzzle.

These puzzles are clever, and some are very challenging. The object is to hit a button located in some awkward spot of the level. To do this, you have a limited palette of objects which need to placed to cause a chain reaction in order to reach the button. Place everything, start the ball rolling, and see if the chain reaction works. The puzzles require careful observation and planning, but seem perfunctory and almost cold. I never really felt the spry intelligence and wit found in the best moments of the “Incredible Machine” series, or the wild imagination on display in “World in Goo.” The puzzles in Gravity are just kind of … there.

The other problem is that it’s obviously a port from the PC, and thus meant to be controlled using a mouse. (Professor Wolff also made the leap to Wii and DS, but I never saw either of these, so I can’t compare.) It was not designed for smaller devices, and the port for iPhones and iPod Touch is problematic in places. Some of the objects are very, very tiny and almost impossible to place with any precision. Although I have very large hands, I’ve gotten used to working on the small touchscreens. Gravity, however, challenged and frustrated me more than once.

I imagine some of my problems with Gravity probably disappear when it’s played on the larger screen of an iPad. The small version, however, is a little too finicky for my taste.


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