Browser game heroes sure seem to be in a hurry lately, don't they? But from whatever tribulations they flee, whether it's from natural disaster, meteoric apocalypse, or a foe more brooding and nebulous, these protagonists could at least count on gravity to be, if not a friend, then at least a reliably neutral presence. Not so the vaguely-android hero of G-Switch, whose world seems to be defined by continuous, infinite momentum, such that jumping sends him inexorably and fatally upward, unless some floating platform can catch his doomed ascent. A one-button running game by Vasco Freitas, G-Switch takes the formula that made Canabalt so successful and adds an eponymous gravity-switching mechanic to create a twitchy, fast-paced experience with surprisingly zen-like results.
Control your robotic runner with either the [X] button or your mouse button, either of which will cause him to leap from whatever platform he is on to his inevitable death! Or unless another platform stops him, which will depend on your timing and agility. Gravity switches every time you jump, so that up frequently becomes down and vice versa. The game does the running for you, sometimes speeding you along at an impossible clip, and sometimes slowing you to bullet-time viscosity.
G-Switch offers a few modes of play. The default "Play" mode puts you through a pre-programmed gauntlet, with checkpoints and infinite replays. "Endless" is randomly, infinitely generated, and the goal is simple endurance. "Multiplayer" lets up to six players crowd around your keyboard to see who can survive the longest.
Analysis: G-Switch is a flawed masterpiece. The presentation is dandy, and I dig the shiny-future, Mega-Man vibe of the graphics and soundtrack. The gameplay is surprising: I was expecting some of the antsy, twitchy dread of Canabalt, but got nothing of the kind. It's quite difficult, and you are bound to replay certain sections again and again. You can't even rely on pure reaction, as there are some leaps-of-faith whose results only become apparent after a couple of run-thrus. But if everything is working right, and you've learned from your mistakes, suddenly the game instills a sense of peace and clarity far from the panic and doom of similar games. It's like parkour, or a rhythm game, as you leap from platform to platform with perfect grace and timing.
I say "If everything is working right." The flaws are in the controls. Maybe I just have clumsy hands of ham, but the controls, however simple, seem just a hair unresponsive, and for a game that depends on perfect timing, a hair can make the difference. Moreover, occasionally there seems to be a problem with platform detection. Sometimes you are supposed to run from one platform to a lower one (or higher one, I suppose) without jumping, which is to say, without any sort of input from you the player. At a very few such spots, this works inconsistently, such that you sometimes simply don't clear a spot you made the time before, having done nothing different. This finicky-ness, combined with too-infrequent checkpoints, makes replaying the same spot more about frustration than the relaxation to which the game aspires.
Oddly, the control issues are less a problem in "Endless" mode. While some of the random elements in this mode become obvious and repetitious, "Endless" generally seems less frustrating that "Play" mode, perhaps because you start with a fresh level after each run and aren't banging your head over and over against the same stubborn challenge. "Multiplayer" is much like "Endless" with more players, and is interesting in that the players collide, which gives rise to the whacky phenomenon of two androids running symmetrically against each other in mid-air.
G-Switch's flaws are a shame, because when it shines it really shines. More than just a clever combination of two well-tread game ideas, G-Switch is a reinvention. No longer do we have the sense that we must run from something in our running games. Now we can just run.