In indie video game Gravity Ghost, you control a young girl who leaps and spins through space, jumping from one tiny planet to the next, the arc of your flight bent by the gravity imposed by the objects around you. It's beautiful and soothing, yet fun and challenging, and quite unique.
Gravity Ghost is sort of a "platform game," in that most of what you do is jumping from point to point, trying to land in certain places or collect objects floating in space. But because you're in space, you don't leap in a predictable arc. You float along a trajectory that's constantly altered by a dynamic gravitational force. Leaping between two planets that are fairly close together is easy enough, but imagine five planets spiraling around a central point. Or a central planet orbited by three other planets that follow geometrically complex patterns. Planets pull you one way, then your momentum carries you nearer another planet, bending your path in another direction. It's really difficult to describe the game's kinetic grace, but this gameplay trailer will give you some idea.
As you progress through various levels, you gain new abilities that incrementally add complexity. You can increase your mass so gravity affects you more, glide away from your orbit, or even "jump" when your feet aren't on a planet. You'll acquire magic elements that let you terraform planets, changing how you interact with them. Some of the levels are like puzzles, as you try to figure out how to grab the star you need to unlock the door to the next level.
While many of the levels are challenging, this is a very Zen game. You can't die, there are no enemies, there's no time limit. Missing a jump or not quite grabbing the item you wanted is a very low-stakes failure — you'll simply float around your orbit one more time and give it another go. In fact, one of the things you learn about this game is that often the best move is to stop trying to alter your course (with the arrow keys) and just let gravity take its course. And if that doesn't work, you still get to enjoy a few blissful moments of twirling through space.
Gravity Ghost is visually striking, with a colorful palette and a style that, while influenced by The Little Prince, stands apart. As you move through the levels, you can collect flowers which make your hair grow. When you meet animal spirits, they hang out in your hair, following you around until you find their bodies and welcome them properly to the afterlife. Your long, streaming hair creates loops and arcs behind you as you float around, adding to the overall sense of grace.
About those animal spirits — there's an underlying story to your adventures through space. I haven't completed every level yet, so I'm not entirely sure where it's going. You periodically meet guardian animals, and after some levels, there are cut scenes depicting a family that maintains a lighthouse. There's a wistfulness to the story, but it's woven with charming humor. The Guardian Mouse busts out an adorable rap about the magic elements. When the sisters in the family are caught playing with a wild fox, the older one deadpans, "This is about the fox, isn't it?" There are lots of sly touches like that. Frankly, I have no idea where the story is going, which is actually great. Spirit animals, mathematical formulas, a slice of ham...how is it all connected?
I'm really enchanted by this game. It's such a work of beauty and grace, and yet it's still very much a game. It's really fun to try each new level and figure out the best way to slingshot your way between planets. The game is available for $15 on Steam or directly from developers Ivy Games. Whenever you buy it, you actually get two copies of the game so you can gift one to a friend — the developers hope that people who don't usually play video games might enjoy it (and with its gentle learning curve and immediately appealing sense of motion and fun, I think it will).