Kat, the spunky and sleek heroine of Japan Studio’s Gravity Rush, is afflicted with video gaming’s most overused plot device—she can’t remember who she is. But Kat’s got something much better than memory and self-awareness: a magical cat named Dusty that gives her the power to transcend and control the laws of gravity. Her game, despite some troubling issues with combat and controls, transcends most of the meager PlayStation Vita library.
It’s simple, really. Clicking the Vita’s right shoulder button sends Kat floating into the air. Once you’ve aimed the giant on-screen reticule with the analog stick–or the Vita’s gyroscope–you can click it again to send Kat hurtling toward enemies, buildings, or anything else in the environment. If she hits a hard surface, it becomes her floor, allowing her to do amazing things like sprint up the sides of skyscrapers or troll the ceilings of cathedrals for gems that upgrade her abilities. Kat’s grav powers are limited by a meter that refills after it drains, but happily, precipitous falls can’t harm her.
With powers like this at her disposal, you’d expect earth-shattering stuff, but Gravity Rush, starts with some seriously pedestrian missions. Kat can control the forces of gravity… and she’s using them to collect used furniture for her sewer-based loft? Patience solves the problem, as soon she’s chasing spooky criminals, solving the mysteries of her past and, for huge chunks of the game, attacking the Nevi, shadowy creatures who’ve erupted out of a black hole in the sky to trouble Hekseville, the floating city that serves as the game’s main environment and hub.
And what an environment it is. Hekseville is a city that bridges the gap between classic and modern, depending on where you’re flying. Each section of the city has its own vibe and appeal, brought to vibrant life by the game’s cel-shaded animation. The pleasure district is a pastiche of Ferris wheels and neon that feels like 1930s Paris; the factory district is bleak and unforgiving, and wouldn’t seem out of place in urban America.
You’ll get to know it well. Every time you perform a civic duty—i.e. using floating crystals you’ve collected to repair broken structures in the city—you unlock a challenge that can earn you even more crystals depending on how you do. Sometimes, these challenges require beating back more nevi; sometimes, you’re required to race the clock through gravity checkpoints littered throughout the city.
It’s true there are points in the proceedings where it’s just easier to sprint through the streets of Hekseville than try to slam-bash your way over and through the city’s close-knit architecture, especially if Kat’s under a time constraint to chase or find something. Her grav powers are actually a lot more fun to deploy away from the city, in the trippy outerworld environs where she’s sent to locate and recover chunks of the metropolis that have broken off and floated away.
These areas also feature the best use of Gravity Rush’s control scheme—a little power called the gravity slide. At points, you can slip-slide Kat through the landscape by touching the lower right and left corners of the touch screen, then rotating her position on the slide by tilting the Vita. These segments offer a welcome and exhilarating break from the repetitive smash-the-nevi combat grind, and I found myself wishing there had been about twice as many of them.
As clever as Gravity Rush’s controls are, they’re also a primary source of frustration. All of the game’s monsters, boss or otherwise, have weak points you’ll have to nail with gravity kicks or specialized attacks. It’s reasonable to expect that the Nevi bigs aren’t just going to sit there and let you kick them into inky oblivion, but it’s beyond maddening to have the triple necks of a dragon-like beast snake away from your attacks at the last second, leaving you disoriented and vulnerable to counterattack. At moments like this, Gravity Rush’s lack of a target lock makes you feel like you’re trying to sink a three-point shot while flying past the basket on ice skates. When those missed attacks lead to death and reloads, controlling gravity suddenly doesn’t feel so powerful anymore.
The story’s an interesting but incomplete tale told through comic-book panels that have to be tapped or swiped, the latter hovering and shift to mirror the way you’re holding your Vita. Kat may not remember who she is, but her personality is extremely engaging and well-defined, and it’s engaging to see her blush with embarrassment when she’s complimented or with rage and frustration when residents treat her like an enemy and outcast. Don’t be surprised to hit the end of the game burdened with more questions than answers about Kat and the motivations of Hekseville’s movers and creators. Maybe we’ll learn more from the downloadable chapters–or possible sequel.
Gravity Rush is a tad too esoteric to serve as the Vita’s still-MIA killer app, but it’s unquestionably the system’s most entertaining and engaging offering at this point. If you’re the sort who enjoys having their world turned upside down–literally and figuratively–you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
+ Cel-shaded animation, well-honed soundtrack, environment add to the ambiance
+ Great and clever use of the Vita’s touch and gyroscope controls
+ Interesting characters
– Combat becomes repetitive quickly
– Hitting boss-monster weak points is an exercise in disorientation/frustration
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Developer: Japan Studio
Release Date: 6/16/2012
ESRB Rating: Teen
Source: Review copy provided by publisher