Ravenous Games’ Gravity Duck quacks back to old school gaming

Mar 3, 2013

Ravenous Games is a developer of which I’ve become a big fan over the last two years.

The latest title from the team is the iOS Universal Gravity.Duck, a fairly simple 2-D platformer with an interesting gimmick. Tapping a button in the game allows players to reverse gravity, sending the duck they control from the bottom of the screen to the top. Instead of having a jump button, the duck can only walk and reverse gravity, so players have to carefully utilize the reversal in order to make it through the game’s many levels.

Gravity.Duck’s central mechanic isn’t exactly new. This particular gravity flip idea has been seen before in lots of platformers – Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV being one of the more recent and elegant examples (it’s also a game on its way to the iTunes App Store.) You can feel the Ravenous Games’ stamp on the title, though, both in its presentation and in one very important element: Gravity.Duck is a challenging game and you’ll die a lot playing it.

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Ravenous Games titles often get pretty difficult, but not necessarily in a frustrating way. It’s an homage to the old school of gaming, with many of the developer’s titles requiring deft skill and quick reflexes. In Gravity.Duck, for example, players are often tasked with reacting quickly to obstacles they’ll only have seconds or less to see, understand, and dodge. But the challenge is part of the fun, because these are smartly designed levels that push players to become better at the game.

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Not every game in Ravenous’ lineup is necessarily amazing, but the lineup does have some impressive entries. And Ravenous is responsible for the League of Evil franchise, which represent two of the very best iOS games on the market.

Taking down evil, one scientist at a time

League of Evil and League of Evil 2 really are in a league of their own. The two titles represent what might be the strongest, most responsive touchscreen controls in the App Store. That’s a very good thing, because both games are notoriously difficult, requiring players to execute each level with a light touch and a ton of skill.The League of Evil games have players running through trap-laden levels as quickly as possible, exploding enemy soldiers with a single punch and ultimately assassinating a scientist at the end of each stage. The thing that makes the games great is the level of challenge – each level is hard on its own, but when you throw in collecting hidden briefcases, and its speedy clear times, grabbing three stars on each level becomes a worthy pastime itself.

Like Gravity.Duck, League of Evil and League of Evil 2 are games in which players will die a whole lot. It doesn’t take much to get blown into bloody, pixelated bits, and the slightest misstep results in a restart. But it’s worth the many failures to perfectly execute one of the games’ levels, snag everything, and finish under the gun.

Brain slug for hire

Though it might not be as challenging as Gravity.Duck or the League of Evil games, another recent Ravenous game, Infestor, is still worth some attention. That’s mainly because its chief gameplay mechanic is a rather interesting one: players have to take control of the bodies of various characters.In Infestor, the player character is a strange parasite that can take over the minds of its victims. It’s a tiny, fragile pile of green goo, but get close to any of the various humans in the game and you can possess them and use them to get around obstacles and through puzzles. Different brands of humans are needed for different tasks, like opening certain doors or traversing certain heights, but they’re single-use only – meaning they die after you leave their bodies (again, in a pixely explosion). That means you not only need to assess the problem and possess the right people, but also in the right order.

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As time goes on in Infestor, more humans appear, as well as more threats. The possession mechanic has some serious potential throughout, especially when the game requires you to use everything in creative ways: for example, sacrificing your host as you leap over a gap in order to give the Infestor a little extra boost to make the jump. It’s an iteration on the usual platforming mechanics that’s enough to make the game fresh and interesting.

Not every game from every developer is spectacular, but Ravenous has a pretty solid track record in the App Store. If there are any platformers you play on your iPhone or iPad, the League games should be among them, but Ravenous’ retro style and fun gameplay mechanics mean that each of its games has its own merit and is worthy of attention.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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