One of the coolest aspects of the generally terrible licensed Spider-Man games have been freely swinging around the city using real buildings to swing and grapple from. What’s funny is that a small independent game like Grapple does a better job of true swinging physics than any Spider-Man game has ever done. This mechanic, along with some truly clever puzzles, results in a pretty brilliant experience.
The presentation of Grapple is basic and straightforward. You control a small ball of goo maneuvering across platforms in deep space. The levels are laid out similar to Portal, with signs hinting at what you need to do to complete each level with your ultimate goal being to reach the end through whatever means you can figure out.
The basic mechanic, naturally, is grappling onto objects. A quick mouse click will fire a string to any attachable object and it’s very easy to use your momentum to fly across a level. Your little ball of goo can also stick to surfaces. In fact you can stick to any side, so often times you will be running along the underside of objects or climbing up vertical walls. The combination of sticking to objects and grappling leads to unprecedented levels of movement. Many levels are true sandboxes where you can use this freedom of movement to get to the end however you see fit.
These two mechanics, by themselves, are fairly easy to use. However Grapple is not content with just letting you swing around. Over the course of the game new mechanics are constantly introduced, creating new toys to use the fun physics engine with. The most simple concept is just the color of platform you see. Blue means that you can stick to it, white is bouncy and physically touching red platforms will kill you instantly; although you can still use them for swinging. Meanwhile, some things can be grappled while others can’t. There are also several levels where platforms are invisible until you get in close proximity, which requires lightning reflexes to quickly adapt. There are even Donkey Kong Country-style cannons that fire you around levels.
What is most fun about Grapple is how the puzzle game is about traversal, pure and simple. It’s a game about maintaining momentum. It’s about using physics to launch yourself across a level and grappling at just the last second to throw yourself even further. You will die a lot (and I mean a lot) but you restart instantly and there are almost always checkpoints within a level, usually after some particularly difficult section. The best part is that in many levels, it’s clear where the end point is; the puzzle comes into figuring out how exactly you get there.
Most of the levels are pretty straightforward, with one clear path to the end. However Grapple is at its best is when it throws you into a level scattered with random objects and tasks you with figuring out whatever path you want to take to get to the end. Levels are also scattered with little green bits to collect, usually in hard to reach spots or hidden on the underside of platforms. Collecting all will definitely take some searching.
The only real complaint I have of Grapple is the camera, and it’s a small complaint at that. Since you’re constantly running along randomly shaped objects like spheres and curved corner pieces, every now and then you’ll run into a point where the camera gets stuck and you have to readjust where it is to keep going in the direction you want. It can be a little annoying at times but once you figure out the trick to fixing it, it won’t really hinder you.
Grapple is a great game that offers a level of unprecedented movement. It’s the best time I’ve ever had swinging from object to object. It’s a game that can suck you in, with a relaxing soundtrack that makes it easy to sit down and play level after level. It has some sections that are pretty brutal, but it’s the right type of difficulty that leaves you feeling that you are doing it wrong instead of the game feeling unfair. If you enjoy puzzle games, Grapple is a game that will easily give you your money’s worth.
Score: 9.0 out of 10
A copy of Grapple was provided to Pixel Related for review.