As a kid, I was a huge fan of sci-fi looking bikes. I used to follow artworks by Syd Mead, who was known for his neo-futuristic designs in Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron. So naturally I was drawn to Gripper when I saw the promotional images on its Steam page. Not to mention, Gripper is advertised as a boss-rush game where you battle robotic enemies on bikes. So, was it up to my expectations? Read below to find out.
Gripper is a story-driven action game with boss fights on wheels. Developed and published by Heart Core, Gripper was released on 29 March 2023.
You are None (not kidding, that’s literally his name!), a rebellious teen who, as a kid, had run away from home in anger after his pacifist father decommissioned all his violent self-made robots. After years and years of ignoring his parents’ plea to come back, None ironically returns when his parents beg him not to! And there’s a pretty good reason for that. The world has been changed and slowly being terraformed by Zero, who was created by his parents as a replacement for None. None challenges Zero only to bite the dust and have a near-death experience, but his body is soon found and rebuilt by Cat-Kit, the robotic cat gifted by his parents when he was a kid. And it is Car-Kit who gives None his mission objectives, i.e., rip out all the Guardians’ heart protecting Zero and then defeat Zero itself. And guess what? The guardians or bosses are the robots that his father decommissioned!
In many ways Gripper reminded me of Furi – both of them are boss-rush games with stylized visuals and top-down perspective, and in both a sarcastic character guides you to your next battle. However, what Gripper lacks is actual well written dialogues. In Furi each boss represented something or had their own motive for imprisoning us. In Gripper, even though each boss/Guardian is literally named after emotions like Shock, Anger, Depression that None’s parents wanted to incorporate within Zero to accurately replace their son, they are mostly bare bones without any actual personality and spitting out the same dialogues during the battles. For a story-driven action game, Gripper barely has any story apart from the introductory cutscene.
Your body, after being destroyed by Zero, is connected to your bike by Cat-Kit. So, all the battles take place with you riding your bike only, which also has a gripper hook (hence the game’s name). The hook can be used to pick stuffs like explosive barrels or rocks and throw it at the bosses to weaken them, and the coup de grâce is delivered by ripping out the boss’ machine heart. Those hearts automatically upgrade your bike like adding a boost or a forcefield shield etc. Besides that, you also get UP (which is literally XP) to buy new consumables like health, turrets, landmines, drone etc. All in all, the gameplay mechanics are fairly simple, but it is better in KBM instead of controller, contrary to what the game suggests.
Each boss battle is preceded by a long, tiring obstacle course where None rides long terraforming tunnels to reach a boss. Tiring because they are essentially gauntlets where you’ve to dodge lasers, fire, doors, chilly winds etc. and you’ve only a limited health to do so. Most annoying is the fact that the obstacles pop up right when you’re at their nose! As a result, you’re bound to die quite a number of times until you remember the exact moments when certain obstacles will pop up. Instead of a skill-based gameplay, these gauntlet sections essentially become frustrating memory-based sequences as your vehicle moves autonomously, and you can only and only swerve left or right. Every dodging is just a QTE and the game won’t read any other inputs.
Visuals, Sound and Performance
Visually, Gripper is appeasing to look at thanks to its stylized graphics and sharp, angular character models. Furthermore, since each boss represents a certain emotion, the environment has been set to match the boss’ vibes. For example, for Anger, the environment is all reddish with fiery obstacles, for Depression the environment is white and blue with icy winds and ice crystal obstacles.
Even the soundtrack, to a certain degree, matches the emotions. However, the voice acting is not on par with how good the music is. The synth background score will remind you of Cyberpunk 2077 and similar games.
And performance wise, Gripper will run fine even on a potato PC. I didn’t encounter any hiccups at all.
There’s a certain thrill, a rush of adrenaline we get after defeating tough enemies in certain games. Gripper offers none (no pun intended). On paper, Gripper sounds cool—using a bike to rip out hearts—and there are beautiful visuals in abundance. But the game fails to tie that up with a gameplay that isn’t frustrating. The trailers make this look like a smooth, stylish, high-octane bullet-hell, but reality is something else. But then, Gripper is Heart Core’s debut game. In other words, you can play it on sale.
FINAL RATING: 60/100
Disclaimer: This copy of the game for the PC platform was provided by the publisher for review purposes without any riders.