Gripper is an on-wheels action game from Heart Core, set on a remote planet being menacingly terraformed by an out-of-control AI named Zero. As angsty protagonist None, you’ll ride your futuristic motorcycle and use its built-in grappling hook to defeat a handful of guardians protecting the core, alongside your old best friend, a robotic toy called Cat-Kit.
None returns to his home planet after running away for years due to a strained relationship with his parents. Upon getting a final distressing message from them to never return, None does the opposite and finds a near barren wasteland on the brink of destruction and is immediately attacked by Zero. He awakens to find that his former childhood toy Cat-Kit now has an AI of its own, has revived him with cybernetics, and has the only lead to save his parents — which is to kill the guardians, rip out their hearts, and then destroy Zero. I was initially put off by None’s angsty personality and over-the-top voice performance, but it wasn’t long before I became intrigued with the tiny threads of mystery surrounding how his parents attempted to cope with his absence. Though thin, the story did a decent enough job pulling me along to the next beat, which is a statement that can be equally applied to the gameplay.
Gripper pairs two distinct gameplay sections: a tunnel racer, where you need to steer clear of various obstacles while pressing the correct prompts for specific hazards, and a top-down boss arena where you get full control of your bike, its grapple, and a handful of abilities you steal from those bosses. The tunnel sections are brief and mechanically light but offer a high degree of difficulty, by testing your reaction time and positioning. They are deceptively simple fun that I’d have quickly lost interest in if they’d gone on for much longer than they do.
The arena boss battles allow you to freely ride your bike around and make use of upgrades you unlock from previous bosses, like a jump, boost, and shield. Each feels distinct and requires unique mechanics that center around one or more of your abilities. While there are only five bosses, you’re encouraged to replay their fights with your new abilities and new win conditions that grant more currency to upgrade your health and skills in the shop.
Your main ability to grapple is primarily used as a means to interact with destructible objects or to grab and throw things and smaller enemies, which is your main form of attack. There is a slight slingshot mechanic when grappling to objects from a certain angle, but it was rarely useful and generally janky to execute. The grapple in general did not work as well as I’d hoped; it will often auto-target and grapple onto things much farther away than you intend, which can easily get you killed in hectic situations, but maneuvering the bike itself feels good in combination with your other abilities.
The bosses are a challenge up until you learn the strategy needed to take them down, but the extra conditions added to subsequent attempts complicate those strategies, creating new challenges and removing any risk of tedium.
That being said, Gripper does feel like it’s stretching as much as it can for content. After about 4 hours there wasn’t much left to do other than the repeated boss arena challenges. However, I enjoyed my brief time with Gripper. Its neon-soaked cybernetic world managed to tell a fairly human story about family. Neither its plot nor gameplay felt very deep, but they combine to make an enjoyable short experience.
The game is out now for $19.99 on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Gripper.