Ducks. Who doesn't love ducks? We love them when they wear sailor suits and antagonize chipmunks. We love them when they guide speech-impaired hunters to the homes of smart-alecky rabbits. And we love them when their Maoi Duck God grants them the power over gravity so that they may gather golden eggs for tribute. Such is the case with WoblyWare's new pixelated physics puzzle platformer, Gravity Duck.
You'll be guiding your duck through forty levels of egg-gathering action. The [arrow] keys move your duck left and right (or up and down depending on the gravity). Hitting [X] when on a solid surface flip-turns the gravity upside-down, sending you careening from platform to platform, with the ultimate goal of making way to the golden egg on each screen (and it is required that you be rotated the same way as said egg to pick it up, something that creates a minor but palpable increase in challenge). If you hurtle yourself into a spinning yellow gravity well, the gravity shifts 90 degrees based on which way the well is rotating. Spikes, smashing blocks, caterpillars, spitting flowers and shooting fire flies later make appearances, attempting to poof you into non-existence, as well as the prerequisite bottomless-pits/ceilings/walls. Restarting a level is just a click away however, and progress is saved as you go on, but your progress is erased if you return to an earlier level.
Analysis: Gravity Duck is cute and has charm to spare, even if the gravity flipping mechanic is a trend that has been done before and better in more complex games like VVVVVV, the Shift Series or even Metal Storm on the NES (though, to be fair, none of those starred ducks). I did find some of the design elements a little random: the lack of a jump button was odd, especially considering how you control something that has wings. The fact that you could not change gravity in midair made things a little frustrating (though admittedly that might be because I have gotten use to that ability in some of the aforementioned games). I also found it strange that this duck seems to have no defense against creatures typically found lower on the food chain. The levels are consistently breezy and fun, though some of the later ones rely a bit too much on having too perfect timing to complete. But the music is bouncy, the graphics are retro, and triumphing over a level that had given you trouble is as satisfying as always.
What I found most refreshing about Gravity Duck, though, is how it breaks away from some of the pretensions of the niche gravity game genre. In the past, if a platformer was to play with gravity, it seemed that it also had to try to play with your mind, or at least was required to have a severely bleak aesthetic. By contrast, Gravity Duck is colorful, playful and kid-friendly (provided said kid is looking for a challenge), and while it's not particularly unique or varied, it's an all-around enjoyable world to take a waddle through. For what it's worth, the ending sequence cracked me up. I would have said "quacked" me up, but the bounty the word-play police has taken out on me is large enough already.