Gripper is an action-arcade racer for the Nintendo Switch. It combines sci-fi elements, a rocking synth-based soundtrack, and varying gameplay styles to offer a unique motorbike-based experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always stick the landing.
Things start off well, with an intro reminiscent of a sci-fi anime. Our oddly named hero, None, has lost touch with his parents for some reason. Their persistent electronic messages across space and/or time hint at their desperation for his return. That is until their final message, which begs him to stay away. Cue the bad guy.
Why has None decided to return only when he was told not to? We don’t know; but he does. By now, he’s all grown up and sports a futuristic-looking motorcycle. Instead of finding his loving parents waiting with open arms, he finds Zero, a giant head made of rocks. Zero has taken over None’s parent’s lab – I think? – and, therefore, the world. There’s not a lot of explanation as to how or why Zero is there. Or even what planet we’re on. Story details may not matter in an action title, but unfortunately, this lack of clarity extends to the entire game.
There are two main styles of gameplay to Gripper. Firstly, adrenaline-pumping driving sections. These twist and turn in 360-degree tunnels akin to Mario Kart’s anti-gravity courses. You can’t speed up or slow down – or even shoot. Your only goal is to dodge obstacles and open gateways. This proves to be a challenging feat as giant spikes pop out of the ground with mere milliseconds of notice. The only way out is through, and the only way through is to keep trying. And trying. And trying. Death comes swiftly and often until, eventually, you memorize each sharp object’s placement and successfully navigate the tunnel. I lost count of how many times I died before that occurred, but it felt good to finally succeed.
As a reprieve, you’re treated to a boss battle. These top-down affairs are also conducted atop your trusty cycle, with a griphook in tow to pull apart bosses and grab and throw any other debris lying around. It soon becomes obvious that these sections are even more difficult, relying on luck more than skill to complete each one.
I’m fine with a tough-as-nails title, but Gripper takes it to a ridiculous level. I’m not certain if the developers meant it to be so tricky, though. There’s no tutorial to help nor difficulty setting to adjust; you’re simply thrust straight into the thick of it. This would also be fine if it didn’t rely so much on luck. It feels like an unfair balance between skill and fortune, particularly during those boss fights. There are only so many times I can watch the words “You Lose” being splashed in front of me before I want to throw my controller to the ground in frustration and give up.
The game seems to make things tougher by poor design choices. For example, it’s hard to see certain on-screen elements. In the tunnel races, you’re suddenly asked to press either ZL or ZR to nimbly shoot a gate or slide under an opening. These tiny instructions are hard to decipher, especially in handheld mode, and I relied more on my memory of previous attempts than any actual on-screen trigger. It also took several tries before realizing I had to press the relevant button at a specific time; I couldn’t work out why I kept crashing even when I pressed the right one. As previously mentioned, instructions are sorely lacking.
On the plus side, the graphics are decent, with some dark hues reminiscent of a world in peril. The cutscenes fair best, with some nice animation that helps complete the sci-fi style. The tunnel races also look good, with fast-paced travel through a dangerous planet.
In terms of the soundtrack, there are two elements at play. The voice work is fine, though a little repetitive. Some characters become annoying, especially your trusty companion, a cat-like toy robot. On the other hand, the soundtrack stands apart as the best aspect of the entire experience. The quick tempo and upbeat synth beats work well in this world and keep the heart pounding. The game initially asks you to play with headphones on, and I can understand why.
Overall, Gripper is an interesting combination of adrenaline-pumping race sections coupled with top-down boss fights. The high difficulty provides a challenge for those stubborn enough to persist, though the gameplay works against itself to somehow miss the point of the challenge. The soundtrack is a stand-out feature, however this is unlikely to be a title you’ll come back to after your umpteenth deathstroke.
Review: Gripper (Nintendo Switch)
Gripper combines adrenaline-pumping race sections with top-down boss fights. The high difficulty provides a challenge, though the gameplay sometimes works against itself to make it a little too difficult. The impressive soundtrack stands out, however this title is unlikely to have you coming back to after your umpteenth deathstroke.