I’m gonna preface this review with a disclaimer: I adore Gravity Falls.
The show is a Disney Channel/Disney XD series following the adventures of Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend the summer at their greedy Great Uncle (Grunkle) Stan’s house/tourist trap known as the Mystery Shack in Gravity Falls, Oregon. It is seriously one of the best shows on the channel (and TV in general). When I heard they were making a game of the series, there was no way I wasn’t going to get it. However, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The marketing for this game was minimal, and all I knew was that it was a Rayman-style platformer produced by Ubisoft made for the Nintendo 3DS and set in the world of Gravity Falls.
To be perfectly honest, that’s exactly what I got–and a little bit more.
Gravity Falls: Legend of the Gnome Gemulets knows exactly what it is and runs with it. It’s a platformer, yes, but it’s also a role-playing game, complete with weapon upgrades, a heart meter, and collectible fetch quests. It takes the concept and runs with it, with its narrative being a satire of traditional RPGs and a straight-up love letter to them at the same time. This is compounded with inspired level design and a wit that makes it one of the funniest games I’ve played in a good while, whether or not you know anything about the source material.
The game starts off with Dipper and Mabel being sent by Grunkle Stan to chase down a strange creature that he thinks will make a great attraction for the Shack. However, the creature escapes the two and steals the Gnome Gemulets, mystical artifacts representing the four elements (Water, Earth, Wind, and Fire) that bring life to the forest surrounding Gravity Falls. The leader of the gnomes, Jeff (previously an antagonist in the show) ends up begging Dipper and Mabel to bring the gems back before the forest dies, even offering millions of pieces of gold if they agree. This catches Grunkle Stan’s attention, and all three end up agreeing to take on the quest. From there, Dipper and Mabel platform their way through different locations from the show, fighting all manner of creatures in order to find the Gemulets and save the forest.The writing in this game is pretty entertaining, though it can be a bit of an issue if you are unfamiliar with the cast. On the one hand, the characters are explained pretty clearly through their dialogue and interactions with each other. You don’t need to know the show to know that Dipper is the over-intelligent smart aleck of the group, or that Mabel is the hyperactive, adventurous type. The game lays it out plain and simple in the opening sequences and it makes for a welcome introduction to the main cast for players who don’t know the show.
On the other hand, there are references to prior events in the show both in the main narrative and in the side quests that are sprinkled throughout the game. A casual player may recognize the dynamics between the characters in the game but still not understand what they’re talking about. This game was designed very clearly for people who like and already know the show, and while you don’t have to do either to enjoy the game, there’s much more enjoyment to be had if you do. The game also makes copious use of ciphers, codes that are seen throughout the show that fans decode in order to unravel mysteries. While the ones in the game are fun to uncover, you will probably have to look up a chart to figure out just what some characters are saying or hinting at.
With that said, the story itself is easily accessible to all kinds of players. In between jokes about the nature of RPGs (one character is a fan of one that has a title worthy of a Square Enix game), pop culture references (“Is there a heart stone?” “Please don’t belittle our culture. This is serious!”), and just flat out funny lines (“It’s days like this that make a man glad he’s not currently in jail!”), the writing finds time to tell a solid story, with a couple interesting twists and turns sprinkled throughout.
The gameplay is pretty easy to understand: you can switch between playing as Dipper, who punches enemies with the help of his Gnome Battle Cuffs, and Mabel, who uses her Fleece of Bedazzlement to whip enemies from a distance. Each of the twins is given a certain extra item that helps them throughout the game; Dipper gets a flashlight that can illuminate foggy areas that are otherwise impassable, and Mabel gets a grappling hook that allows her to swing to higher ground. The levels are designed around the twins’ ability to switch back and forth. Quite a few puzzles involve one of them getting through an area the other can’t pass for whatever reason and pushing a box or opening a door so they can reunite. The flashlight and grappling hook are alternately updated after the first playthrough of each level, giving them new abilities that let the Twins explore parts of each level that were previously unreachable. This is all very well balanced, allowing for continued replays of each level and new puzzles to solve.
The level design is engaging, with a lot of variety in their different styles. They follow a lot of the classic platformer motifs, however: you have a stage set in a mine, with Donkey Kong Country style broken rails and carts (though you don’t get to control the cart), a couple of cave stages, a forest stage, and so on. The earlier stages start out pretty simple, with the main requirements to beat them just being some jumping and swinging on ropes. As the game goes on, the stages get tougher, accommodating the player’s weapon upgrades by growing in size and scope with a lot more land to traverse and secrets to find. There aren’t very many stages, however, so the shift from simple to complex happens pretty quickly. it’s only in the last quarter or so of the game that it becomes more challenging to play through, which we’ll get to in more detail a bit later.
The game plays smoothly, with no lag or stutter that I could see on my playthrough. The characters are a bit floaty, which can lead to some frustration when you’re trying to make the perfect landing onto a platform. The AI of the twin that’s not in use, for the most part, just mirrors your movements and doesn’t particularly get in the way of anything. This mirroring does lead to some funny moments. For instance, when jumping over a pit, sometimes the AI would fall right into the pit, and then reappear right behind you, similar to Tails in a Sonic game. This became incredibly amusing when, due to space constraints in certain areas, the AI would fall and reappear right over the same pit they fell into before. However, this mirroring could be a bit frustrating at times as well, as each twin is lighter separately than they are together. So for example, if one of them gets pushed back by an enemy and you jump solo onto a rope or a vine, the AI will more than likely attempt to jump on the vine…right as you’re attempting to make another jump. The combined weight of the twins might (and usually did) send both of them careening towards a pit, either sending them back to an earlier portion of the level or killing them.
That’s another thing about the game-death has no meaning. Yes, it is a kid’s game, but each time you die, the worst that happens is that you have to continue from a checkpoint in the level. There is no life system, just the heart bar. This means that there’s no game over screen, no fear of what might happen outside of a couple boss battles being longer than they need to be. Even the oldies like Mario and Sonic had the player start at least at the beginning of the level when they died. It doesn’t take the fun out of the game, but it does end up making the game a lot easier to play through, and therefore quicker to play through.
The enemies in the game aren’t really all that difficult, either. They can be challenging, yes, depending on how upgraded your weapons are. It make take them a few hits to go down, slowing down your progress. But once you learn their patterns, you can take them out with ease. The boss fights in the game are no real exception to this rule, but they change up the usual patterns just enough to make it interesting each time you face one. They are repetitive fights after the first couple, however, so for your own enjoyment you might wanna take them a bit slowly. For adults, this may be a bit on the simplistic end when it comes to challenge, but it’s not too easy. I would say it’s just the right amount of difficulty for the game’s main target audience, younger kids who may just be getting into gaming.
The game follows a pretty simple formula. You play a level, beat the boss, get a Gemulet, return to two different levels to get some more story and upgrades to your flashlight and grappling hook, and repeat. Outside of this, there are two other major factors to the game. The first is weapon and health upgrades, which you get by collecting “spores” throughout the levels and giving them to the local mad inventor Old Man McGucket. Each upgrade costs more and more spores, requiring you to go back and replay the levels in order to get more hearts and more powerful weaponry. The second are the side quests. There are different characters in the town of Gravity Falls who, for whatever reason, have all lost something important to them. You can collect these items as you progress through the level, giving you a reason to experiment and explore. Most of these items are in plain sight, but there are a few hidden ones that take some thought and time to find and many of them are locked behind the different upgrades you get to your main items. You may end up replaying the same level around five times, and this can be both good and bad depending on how much you like or dislike a level. As well, there isn’t really much to be gained from collecting everything outside of some more character revelations or interactions, and depending on your level of knowledge about the show, it may either be a great reward or a terrible one.
Legend of the Gnome Gemulets runs on the UbiArt Framework that has been used mainly for Rayman games (with two notable exceptions being Child of Light and Valiant Hearts), and this works to its benefit. UbiArt is a perfect match for the style of the show, with the cast looking like they’ve transitioned near-seamlessly into the game without having to do much tweaking to their design. This doesn’t just apply to the characters; the backgrounds, settings, and general monster design all look extremely nice in UbiArt, with even tiny details like cracks in a cliffside or leaves on trees looking like they were hand drawn one by one. The backgrounds are all filled with little nods or details related to the continuity of the show, and it’s always fun to keep an eye out to see what might be lurking around as you progress through the game. There are some portions of the game that could have used a little more work (the static sprites during the talking scenes occasionally seem to be squished or shaded a bit too much) but overall, the game looks incredibly nice.
One of the few major stumbling blocks this game has is its music. The tracks themselves aren’t awful; the developers obviously put work into the tracks they made. The problem is, there’s not much of it. There is a total of one track per level, an overworld track, one or two variant boss themes, and the theme song of the show itself. That’s it. These songs loop over and over again, and after a while, you just start to get tired of it. The show has a multitude of tracks and sound effects that could have really enhanced the game, but for whatever reason, it just isn’t there. There is also no voice acting, which is a really big letdown as there is a lot of writing and dialogue in the game. I can understand the reasoning; odds are, the show’s actors all had other commitments or things to work on. It doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the game’s best moments could definitely have been enhanced with even some repeating sound bites from the show or something.
The game is also very short; beating the main story took me only five hours. To be fair, however, I had a marathon play session with this game, and made it a point to hunt for secrets as soon as I got into a level. I would recommend playing this game in short bursts once a day or so; that way, you can spread those five plus hours out into a much longer period of play.Overall, Gravity Falls: Legend of the Gnome Gemulets is an immensely enjoyable game, whether or not you’re already a fan of Gravity Falls. The difficulty level is definitely more tuned to kids than adults, it is aimed more at its existing fanbase than anyone else, and the occasionally distracting AI, repetitive music, lack of voicework, and the general length of the game might be a bit off-putting to some. Even with that in mind, the game’s writing, sense of humor, surprising amount of depth in both plot and gameplay, beautiful graphics, and fun level design make it a definitely worthwhile purchase. So come on down to Gravity Falls-you never know what secrets you might uncover.