Developer: SCE Japan / Publisher: Sony / Played On: Vita / Price $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone
Gravity Rush may be open-world, but unlike the Rockstar games that define the genre, you can’t steal cars, punch police, or bang hookers. You can, however, flip gravity to launch screaming pedestrians through the air like rag dolls. Woo!
But Gravity Rush doesn’t need to rely on hookers and guns to be fun. Instead, it pulls you through several hours of adventuring with a satisfying and liberating flight mechanic, intriguing locales and an even more intriguing plot. In an era of repetitive sequels, this is a refreshing breath of fresh air.
Gravity Rush will be best enjoyed if you go in fresh so that you share the same oblivious intrigue as its main character, Kat – a mysterious young girl with a bad case of amnesia. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or where she came from, and neither should you.
All she does know is that she has a single friend – a black cat whose presence seems to give her control of gravity.
She soon puts these powers to good use when the enemies of the game, a race of varying beasts called the Nevi, turn up to cause a ruckus in the town Kat finds herself in, and immediately leaps to help.
It’s best if you don’t know any more about the plot. But I can tell you that it’s a gripping tale of a seemingly ordinary girl with a destiny bigger than she realizes, which takes her to different towns and cities, underground lairs and alternate dimensions, meeting curious characters and battling some of the biggest bosses you’ll have seen on your Vita screen so far. And you’ll be gripped every step of the way as it unfolds via a quirky comic strip with a neat tilt-able visual effect.
If it’s not already obvious, the game’s key mechanic is the ability to manipulate gravity. You tap R to neutralize gravity around Kat, then point the camera in any direction – either with the right analogue stick or by moving the Vita around – and hit R again to set gravity’s pull in that direction and essentially send Kat flying through the air.
At first a restrictive gravity gauge – which determines the duration of Kat’s floating powers – runs empty within seconds, sending her crashing down. But as you progress you collect gems that can be spent leveling-up her various skills and powers. And this system is empowering – not only do her basic kicks and more flamboyant super-attacks become a lot more powerful, but you are later able to maintain ‘flight’ for far greater lengths of time, and the feeling of finally gaining control of the air is greatly liberating.
It can feel clumsy at times, though – even when you get used to the initially awkward controls you’ll still find yourself crashing to the ground like Evil Superman, smacking over citizens and wrecking the odd wall or road sign, but it’s okay because it never stops being fun.
Then the game whips these powers away from you at certain points to serve up challenging platform sections, along with all the monster battling, search-and-find and (crucially brief) stealth-oriented missions to keep you on your toes.
It may have open areas to explore, but it’s very much a linear game in a pretty but non-interactive environment. Think PSN game Journey with monsters, not GTA. Waypoint markers serve as constant handholders, which do their job in pushing you through your linear quest, and while optional time trial-based mini-challenges (equipped with online leaderboards) serve as minor distractions, there are no substantial sub-quests or anything like that.
There’s only ever one way forward – there’s not even the illusion of choice.
I remembered the trailers looking vibrant and colorful, so was a little disappointed when the first area in the game looked a bit dull. Friends who rushed over to see it in action were also unimpressed. But within a couple of hours, my opinions would change drastically.
Gravity Rush’s fairly basic up-close detail doesn’t shine until you reach the larger areas and you realize it’s all about scale. I’m talking ridiculously long draw distances with insane numbers of vast structures and enormous caves all drawn with a sweet cel-shaded effect. It also makes clever use of significantly contrasting color palettes for each area, the first town admittedly a dull mix of purples, but later areas bursting with vibrant tones of green, red, yellow and orange.
Particularly spectacular scenes forced me to make use of Vita’s screenshot-taking feature that I thought I’d never use (by pressing the PS Button and Start simultaneously). A large cave with hundreds of giant glowing lava balls spread far into the distance, or a dreamscape with dozens of mushroom platforms as far as the eye can see spring to mind. Just wow.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Gravity Rush is a journey. An artistic, unique and intriguing journey. It’s not as free or interactive as its ‘open world’ might have you think, but forget about that. It’s an adventure through an odd and interesting land that pulls you through a twisting quest of isolation, dubious friendships and selfless heroics. It’s a game driven by your curiosity in its quirky, likable protagonist and its unpredictable, nonsensical world – a game that dares to be different in an industry dominated by familiar sequels and samey gameplay.
The gravity-shifting mechanics can be clumsy at times, and the combat is rather simplistic, but the mid-air boss battles are spectacular and the feeling of flight combined with Kat’s constantly growing power is liberating. And the awesome music is a bonus, too.
In the midst of Vita’s ongoing game drought, everyone looking for their next big game should be looking forward to this.