Grapple Review – PC/Steam

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Over 30 years ago Atari released a little game called Marble Madness.  Over ten years ago there was this little PSP game called Archer Maclean’s Mercury and its follow-up sequel a year later, Mercury Meltdown.  I was having serious thematic flashbacks to all of these old-school games during my time playing Grapple, the new 3D puzzle-platformer releasing today on Steam.

In Grapple you play as a tar-like black blob of goo that gets to roll, stick, jump, and swing around a variety of ledges and 3D geometric shapes suspended in the black void of space.  There is no setup, no story, and no reason for doing so other than the satisfaction of beating each of the 90 levels, finding the secrets, and perhaps setting some Speed Run goals – despite the lack of Steam Leaderboards.

While each level in Grapple has only one exit portal, the path you choose to reach that black hole is limited only by your imagination, skills with a mouse and keyboard (or controller), and your ability to function in a virtual 3D space.   If any game screamed its desire for Oculus Rift support Grapple would be screaming the loudest.   Playing this 3D game on a 2D screen can still invoke moments of nausea as you desperately try to aim and attach your sticky appendage to a platform so you can swing to the next, which leads to my first issue – controls.

The game is playable with a mouse and keyboard and there is partial controller support – partial meaning that you can use a controller but you’ll have to use trial and error to figure out which buttons do what as all the in-game prompts only reference keys and buttons.  My gaming setup makes using a mouse and keyboard problematic, but I did try a few levels and found that the mouse offers a faster and more precise camera movement, which is crucial when trying to navigate the more complex areas of the game.  The analog stick on the controller was just too sluggish and with no options to adjust the sensitivity I found myself missing a lot of my grapples.

The presentation is simple yet elegant with a classic red vs blue neon theme and green checkpoints all set against the inky blackness of space.  This ultimately means that even modest PC’s are going to have no trouble running this game at silky smooth framerates.  The menus and interface are minimal with an options menu and gameplay grid of all 90 levels that slowly unlock as you complete prior levels.  This allows you easy access to return to any prior level to better your time or find missing secrets.  I really enjoyed the techno-style music, but the only sound effect in the game is this wet sickly squishing noise as you roll around that gets grossly repetitive after the first ten minutes.

Gameplay is smooth as you move your black goo around using the keyboard or controller stick in a direction relative to your camera view.  When the camera goes inverted or you start going up a vertical wall or do a reverse half-loop on a curved section controls can get a bit weird, forcing you to adjust your camera view.   When grappling and swinging you will always connect to where you are looking as noted by the orange circle on the HUD that will light up when you are looking at a valid connect surface.  You cannot adjust the length of your connecting arm after the grapple so it takes some skill in knowing when to make contact and just how far to ride the momentum of your swing; especially in multi-platform swings, but when done properly you’ll feel like a space-age Tarzan.

As the levels get larger and the path to the exit grows longer and more complex new hazards make their way into the game.  You have transparent surfaces that cannot be grappled and you have red surfaces which can be grapples but not touched by your primary goo ball.  In addition to swinging from overhead platforms you’ll soon be doing lateral swings around facing obstacles and performing mid-air arcing swings worthy of a trapeze artist.

Grapple is only $8 on the Steam store and even though I’ve only made it about 75% through the 90-level library, I’ve already had enough fun to justify that price, and I haven’t even got started on the Speed Runs and Sandbox Puzzles yet.  Any trial and error tedium is instantly overshadowed by that sense of accomplishment every time you complete a new level.  If you enjoy 3D puzzle-platformers and aren’t prone to motion sickness from crazy camera angles and insane heights then you’ll definitely want to check out this TRON-inspired arcade game that will consume countless hours of your life.

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