Go Gimbal Go

A game by Gimbal Lock Studios for Xbox 360, originally released in 2012.
Rainbow Island is an idyllic world populated entirely by children. Rather than bashing each other’s heads in with rocks, they spend their days playing and running about on the beaches and forests, and also conducting some sort of business in their cities. But the evil King Commandroid has invaded the land, imprisoned the children, and drained the magic from the colorful rainbow pathways in the sky. Things seem pretty bleak until a little girl named Alice writes a letter asking for help, folds it into a paper airplane, and tosses it out the window. Suddenly, a little purple ball named Gimbal appears, piloting his Star Rider ship down from the reaches of space to help the poor children of Rainbow Island. Despite the deliberately silly premise and the cutesy art style, Go Gimbal Go is no simple game, and poses some serious challenge even for grizzled gaming veterans.

The game begins with an introduction of the basic mechanics. Most of the time, Gimbal will be travelling down rails, with plain white rails allowing him to move at normal speed and rainbow-colored rails allowing him to boost along very quickly. When the player mashes the RIGHT TRIGGER, Gimbal speeds up (you’ll be holding this button down for most of the game), and letting off the trigger slows Gimbal down. Hitting the LEFT TRIGGER acts as a brake, which can be useful in later levels when attempting to avoid obstacles.

Gimbal is able to jump as well, but the trajectory of the jump is determined by his speed and the angle of the pathway, very similar to how the unicycles operate in DMA’s Uniracers. Jump while on a flat surface, and Gimbal will do a small hop. Jump at full speed from the top of a hill and Gimbal will soar through the air.

Gimbal’s most important ability is a stretchy purple arm that he can extend outward to grab platforms and other objects. This arm is controlled by the LEFT STICK. Used in conjunction with a jump, this gives Gimbal the ability to switch from one rail to another, grab children out of the air (they appear in floating bubbles), and navigate between airborne obstacles.

Gimbal can also flip from one side of a rail to the other, which is generally done to avoid enemies. Gelatinous purple enemies will just slow you down, but spiked enemies will kill you outright, sending you back to the most recent checkpoint. All levels are timed, and the player is awarded medals based on the amount of time remaining on the clock when he reaches the finish line. Additional time is gained whenever a child is rescued, with easy-to-reach children granting an extra 3 seconds, others granting 5, and special out-of-the-way “bonus” children granting 10. Also, the game features a Mario Kart-style speed boost if you hit the RIGHT TRIGGER with the proper timing during the “Go Gimbal Go” sequence at the start of each level.

Getting higher end level rankings requires not only a fast playthrough but also a large number of rescued children. In most levels, it’s not possible to rescue every child, and aside from losing out on time bonuses, there is no penalty for missing them. Often, you’ll have to decide whether your survival is more important than the few extra seconds you’d gain by rescuing a child, and sometimes you’re better off leaving them behind… an interesting moral choice, but one necessitated by the design.

Crossing checkpoints also puts a few extra seconds on the clock – punctuated by the delighted cheers of children who pop up from the bottom of the screen when you pass them – so it’s always important to keep in mind how far you are from the next one. A handy bar appears across the top of the screen, showing your total progress through the level, with checkpoints marked as stars. Most levels have at least 2 checkpoints, but the more complex levels often have more.

Rainbow Island is divided into 3 sections with 8 levels each, for a total of 24 levels. In the first set of levels, it’s not terribly difficult to make it through to the end with the starting allotment of 3 lives. However, by the beginning of the second world, things start to get pretty tough, with complex level layouts and a high number of spiked enemies blocking your path to victory. Here, you may find yourself back at the starting line a number of times before getting through.

The player is free to restart the level from scratch at any point and go back to the beginning with a full stock of 3 lives. However, if the player dies before the first checkpoint, he is still sent back to the beginning, but with one less life. This essentially requires that players wait for the level to reload and then immediately restart to regain the lost life. 1UPs may be picked up in certain levels as well, although they can be a bit of a challenge to collect since your arm cannot grab them; you must physically pass through them to pick them up.

Basic environmental navigation requires that you dash down rails, hop over gaps, and jump from one rail to the next. Falling off the bottom of the screen will kill you, although this flavor of death is actually fairly rare given the disconnected nature of the levels. Gravity isn’t strictly oriented downward in this game; rather, you will be pulled toward nearby objects. This can feel a bit strange sometimes, since it may seem that you’re falling backward or at an angle, but this helps to keep you on solid ground and gives you more of a chance at grabbing an object while falling.

New obstacles and mechanics are slowly introduced throughout the game, such as a cloud-like enemy that can stick to you and slow you down, requiring that you shake it off. You’ll also learn how to add time to the clock in 1-second increments by swinging your arm wildly while soaring through the air, an advanced technique that is required to complete some later levels.

About a third of the way into the game, you are introduced to an object called the orbit ball. This is a circle with a pinwheel of rainbow colors within (this is also used as the time indicator on loading screens). You can grab orbit balls with your arm and cling to them, and circle around them clockwise while holding the RIGHT TRIGGER. However, with each revolution, the rainbow color within the ball gets smaller and smaller. If you’re still holding onto the ball when it disappears, you’ll be flung through the air along the vector in which you were moving at the time. You’re free to jump away from the orbit ball at any time – keeping in mind your trajectory while moving in a circular motion – and the rainbow color inside will slowly grow to fill up the space again. These objects are often placed in clusters, requiring multiple jumps in succession, sometimes while dodging enemies.

A variation on the orbit ball is called the orbit gear, and it’s introduced a bit later in the game. There are 2 varieties of orbit gear: stationary ones, and those that move along a track. Grabbing a moving gear will force you to spin around it as it rolls back and forth along a prescribed path, and here again, you are often tasked with performing multiple jumps between gears. The fact that the gear is constantly moving adds a bit of extra complexity since you cannot slow down or stop to line up your jumps; you must always jump while spinning.

The stationary orbit gear adds even more complexity. When you jump on one of these, you can control its movement by using the triggers, speeding it up and slowing it down as it moves along its track. When it reaches the end of its track, it will turn into an orbit ball, and it will begin to disappear as you move around it. While controlling the orbit gear, you will also need to avoid enemies, which most often appear in the form of spinning saw blades that are also restricted to specific paths. You’ll need to speed up, slow down, and take your position on the gear into account when moving through these enemies, sometimes with a very narrow space for success.

In the final area, you’ll encounter sections where you may board your Star Rider and take to the skies, using the triggers to speed up and slow down. These sections allow for free flight, but with very limited fuel. The only way to gain more fuel is to find another Star Rider floating in the level. If you don’t make it to solid ground before running out of fuel, you’ll be forced back to the point where you encountered the initial Star Rider and have to do it all over again. These flight sections require that you fly down a pathway that’s blocked on either side by solid lines, but these do not hurt you if you touch them. You’ll have to avoid the floating cloud enemies that slow you down – potentially keeping you from reaching your next fuel pickup – and dodging huge spinning 5-armed enemies that often block the entire path, forcing you to adjust your speed and trajectory to fly between the moving gaps. There are children to be picked up in these areas as well, once again forcing the player to balance survival with the time bonuses gained from rescuing them.

Given that levels are comprised entirely of free-floating objects, it can sometimes be difficult to tell where you’re supposed to go next. This is remedied somewhat by in-game clues, such as arrow signs that show the general path of travel, warning signs indicating obstacles up ahead, and the fact that rails only allow you to move in one direction. Still, it is possible to get a bit lost amongst some of the more complex level layouts.

There are also numerous situations where you must jump through tiny gaps lined with spiked enemies, often requiring that you grab an orbit ball or hit a spring on the far side. Getting your trajectory just right can be difficult, especially since you need to build up sufficient speed to cross large gaps. Also, since you can’t grab springs, it’s possible to send yourself flying over one with no possible way to correct your miscalculation once you’re in the air.

Provided you’re up for the challenge, you can replay any completed level to try for a better medal. Each medal has a defined goal time with gold medals requiring a thorough familiarity with the level layouts and a pretty solid understanding and execution of the mechanics. A medal counter in the upper left of the overworld map shows how many medals you’ve earned out of the total possible 72. Each level also has a hidden present which unlocks hats and other costumes for Gimbal to wear as he dashes along the rails. These are often placed in out-of-the-way areas or optional side paths, and like 1UPs, they cannot be grabbed with your arm.

Go Gimbal Go was developed by Illinois-based Gimbal Lock Studios, comprised of recent college graduates. This was the studio’s first release.