Platform | Release Date
Vita | June 12, 2012
Developed by SCE Japan Studio
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment
Gain a new perspective as you take on the role of Kat, a strong-willed girl seeking the means to protect her future in a world that’s crumbling to pieces. Tilt and move the PlayStation®Vita System, taking gravity into your own hands to deliver devastating attacks, uncover the secrets to your past and explore a mysterious world.
There was a time when Japan was a haven for fresh new ideas, a place where developers were less inclined to “exploit” franchises or pump out yearly releases. Unfortunately, that reputation has faded amidst Western outsourcing, the panic of poor global sales of Japanese games, and attempts to imitate Epic’s cover shooters. It might be because of this that Gravity Rush feels so freshly Japanese, as it makes none of the same mistakes. The important thing is that it’s a really, really good game.
Gravity Rush opens with our amnesiac hero arriving in the floating town of Heksville. Hanging in a glowing orange sky, the town is initially fragmented; catastrophically split with families and friends torn apart. Kat, as she becomes known, possesses gravity control powers which give her the ability to float around the city. Soon, she sets about bringing Heksville back together. Seems easy enough to follow, right?
Easy enough to follow… for the first few missions. You realise pretty quickly that normality is something of a foreign concept in Gravity Rush. It first hit me when I was thrown into the topsy-turvy alternate dimensions. My sense of up and down, already challenged, became a distant memory as I swooped around, and this was all before I dropped down below the city.
The narrative is more confusing than complex. Gravity Rush might start out stable, but once biblical references are introduced, the dialogue becomes more metaphorical than sensical. This isn’t something I have an issue with, and the blend of comic book art, cutscenes and text dialogue ensures that the bizarre tale is told in an interesting manner. It’s difficult to care that you’re confused when the confusion feels like part of the fun. The world of Heksville is a crazy one, and without the insanity it might not be nearly as compelling.
The mind-bending gravity powers are joyous. Initially the game promotes using your time constrained abilities to land on the sides of buildings, but eventually flying becomes far more important. Quick taps of the Vita shoulder buttons, as well as using the right stick or the accelerometer, allow you to redirect your fall. As a portable experience, it could only work on the Vita. Without dual analogs Gravity Rush would be a nightmare.
Tight controls mean it’s incredibly fun just to swoop around the sky. Since you are technically falling rather than flying, you can let gravity do most of the work for you. When you hit the ground, whether it’s a wall or the underside of a giant clock, any way could be up. You’ll view Heksville from every angle, as well as from every rooftop. The freedom is exhilarating.
Combat isn’t quite as great. Basic kicks will allow you to take care of the starter enemies, but looping up into the sky and performing targeted hits is essential for the bigger foes. Shifting your reticle over weak spots can become repetitive, and the three unlockable special moves power up really slowly. Defeating the game’s primary enemies, the Nevi, nearly always means trying to position yourself for a diving kick, but your enemies usually follow with area of effect attacks. This constant cat and mouse game is the central theme in later missions. Growing boredom with with this forced structure made me miss aimlessly floating around, and gave me time to question the quality of the narrative. Fortunately, I could always tap a button and fly off into the skies once more when a mission was complete. It’s a very similar experience to the one many people had with Crackdown.
There’s a lot of extra content, although the best stuff isn’t the Challenge missions. They are typical fare, but collecting gems is as fun here as it was in the aforementioned Crackdown. Surfaces, on all sides of buildings, are covered in purple collectables to be spent on vital upgrades for combat and gravity power durations. You accumulate enough spending power quickly, making it easy to justify spending a few hours zooming around exploring and being rewarded for it, especially when doing so is so ridiculously fun.
Technically the game is impressive. Once the three parts of Heksville are brought together it’s likely you’ll have upgraded enough to fly freely between them. Without those upgrades though, you’ll rely on public transport like a monorail to jump between them. The shift from being bound to trains and blimps, to being able to fly all the way from the smallest island to the biggest, offers a great feeling of empowerment. Gazing at an island from a half kilometre away, then zooming over to it and dropping from the sky, is as fun every time as it is the first.
Gravity Rush, with its weird, distinctly Japanese narrative and fresh, well-executed concepts, is as much a justification for buying a PS Vita as Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Arguably, it’s a more consistently entertaining and ambitious title. It slips when that ambition is forgotten, or when old ground is retreaded, but those moments are the minority. You can spend hours in Heksville, and the open promises of a sequel are welcome even once you have. There’s fun in buckets here, although you might need one if the motion sickness hits. Get it now.