Developer: Project Siren (SCE Japan Studio)
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: June 13, 2012
Price: $39.99 (available here)
Also known as Gravity Daze in it’s native Japan, Gravity Rush managed to become Famitsu’s highest rated Vita game with relative ease. Despite gathering a good handful of impressive review scores, the game has been plagued with a bizarre form of expectation thanks to the position of the Vita in the market place. Is the game good enough to sell systems? Can it save the Vita? Will everyone suddenly declare Sony’s latest venture a blazing success off the back of this one release? Can Gravity Rush change the world?!
So why is Gravity Rush being turned into the Vita’s life support? Because the game is a rare thing for the Vita at the moment. It’s a strong, distinctive and new I.P, which crucially hasn’t already been seen on big brother PlayStation 3. It is impossible to experience this game on any platform other than the Vita; it’s exclusive, it’s fresh, and it’s exciting.
A young woman wakes up in an unfamiliar world, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. The world is Hekesville, a bizarre city scattered across the sky, somehow floating above oblivion and plagued by gravity storms. Getting her bearings somewhat, the girl manages to acquire a companion in the form of a cat. Swiftly monikered as Dusty, this starry feline allows the girl to manipulate gravity and fling herself the sky about like nobody’s business.
Kat, as she becomes, is quickly drawn into a little explained conflict with a group of monsters called Nevi. These amorphous black blobs have invaded Hekesville along with a massive gravity storm, and Kat soon finds herself not only defeating monsters, but putting the city back together and becoming something of a heroine to the locals.
The story is kept light and breezy, with Kat instantly forgetting that she has lost her memory and just going along with all the crazy things that happen to her. She’s a likeable new addition to the Sony first party stable, and actually has a good measure of personality that is warm and charming. Sadly the appropriate comment cannot be heaped upon any of the other characters, with the villains given short shift and supporting characters shipped in and out too briefly to be of concern.
Ultimately Gravity Rush is a superhero origin tale, and as such is highly reminiscent of fellow Sony exclusive Infamous. Not only in the basic tale it’s telling, but in the nature of the super power at the heart of it all.
Gravity manipulation is a very complex mechanic to pull off, and Gravity Rush manages it without a hitch. Tap a shoulder button and Kat floats, direct a blue reticule to where you want to fall and tap the R button to send Kat falling through space directed by her own personal gravity field. Hit a wall and Kat will stick to it, and gravity will keep pulling her towards that surface until you change the direction of the field. Exploring Hekesville is a joy, as the city design perfectly complements Kat’s power and is divided into complex and oddly combined levels. Exploration is encouraged by having a generous amount of crystals hidden about the city which can be used to level up Kat and unlock challenge missions.
The constant change of perspective and camera movement takes some getting used to, but it’s a skill worth building. Lots of crashing into walls and accidentally falling off edges will eventually be replaced by the rush of pulling off the perfect manoeuvre. The game title may seem a bit odd at first, but when your careering around the city and pulling off complex turns at high speed it all makes sense.
Maintaining an alternate direction of gravity is timed, but the gauge is one of the many features of Kat’s power that can be levelled up. She can also speed up the ‘rush’ or fall, pull off ever stronger gravity kicks and unlock several highly effective attacks, that although limited in use, completely destroy most enemy opposition if used correctly. This is where the game falters somewhat, whilst the core mechanic is very slick and a joy to use at your whim, when it’s applied to combat and the main campaign things lose a little of their shine.
The missions just don’t do enough to make use of the excellent core mechanic, and boil down to a series of run here, kick that, collect that style episodes. Things take a while to get into gear too- you’ll have to push through collecting furniture for Kat’s new sewer pipe abode to get to the meatier stuff. Things do improve as you delve into the story, with some larger scale confrontations and boss battles doing their best to counteract some of the more bland sequences.
Combat is a solid enough affair, but lets down the game somewhat by being a little bit choppy and unbalanced. If Kat is grounded she’s just not very manoeuvrable and has a limited repertoire, but it’s the special attacks that really mess things up. There are several special attacks that players can unlock, unleashing them at the behest of a red dot that does all of the recharging. The powers lock on to targets and deal a great amount of damage, and it’s all too easy to use Kat’s powers to run away, recharge, then come back and deal out some more hits. Sadly it is preferable to dishing out bland kick combos and missing with gravity kicks – if an enemy moves at all you’re flying kick is wasted. It’s not terrible but it isn’t overly fun either, regular enemy encounters are particularly lacking in thrills.
Unfortunately this does affect some of the extra content on offer to boost the already considerable 20 hour play time. In addition to levelling up Kat crystals can also be used to fix various parts of Hekesville, opening up repeatable challenges in time attack combat or races that can be tried and tried again to grab bronze silver and gold medals. Races are all well and good, but I quickly found my enthusiasm for combat challenges dropping to zero.
Gravity Rush has a great core mechanic – there is no doubt about that. Levelling up Kat gives you ever more freedom and speed and power, and the experience is perfectly matched to the Vita, everything just feels right on the handheld. Sadly combat has been over emphasised in a game that would thrive on platforming and puzzles, and if only the focus had been slightly shifted this could have been the first Vita only classic experience.
Audio and Visual
Gravity Rush has a very distinctive style. Think Nintendo’s Professor Layton crossed with one of the early Final Fantasy titles. Characters have simple anime style designs and the world that they inhabit is part steampunk, part quaint Victorian. The colour palette is a little subdued, but that doesn’t prevent Gravity Rush from standing out in a crowd of games that are either aiming for realism (Resistance, Uncharted) or are 100% bright cartoon (Rayman Origins). The world is beautifully detailed and divided into a number of distinct areas, each enhanced by an appropriate musical theme. As well as the more ‘realistic’ city areas (industrial, night life etc), Kat often finds herself in trippy, more imaginative zones, which inject a little more colour and variation into the level design.
Some of the tunes are pretty catchy numbers and bring a sense of character to the different regions of the city that you gradually discover. The composer for the game, Kohei Tanaka, has worked on a huge number of anime projects and provides a score that fleshes out the world of Hekesville with some real charm and vitality. Sadly there is next to no voice acting in the game, and the sound design bears little to shout about – the music is by far the more powerful force here.
The cutscenes are presented in comic book style, a feature that has been much used and abused in countless titles. Here it is actually used to enhance the game’s style. The Vita’s gyroscope and touch screen allow for a subtle level of interaction with the cutscenes, making the comic book presentation seem much more organic and in keeping with the rest of the game. The Vita is clearly an appropriate home for this kind of story telling, and Gravity Rush showcases that very well.
As a whole the game is highly stylised and, at least when considering the current crop of Vita games, rather unique. It is something fresh and exciting that you haven’t seen before, and that ties in with the new IP to make Gravity Rush a rather pretty package.
Neither a console seller or a crushing disappointment, Gravity Rush is a game with a great core mechanic held back by a few gameplay flaws. The art direction and game world are engaging , stylish and unique on the Vita, and whilst the story is certainly a little generic, there’s ample room there for further expansion. Kat is a strong lead with a fun power, and if it had been utilised better this could have been that infamous console shifter.
As it is Gravity Rush is certainly one of the strongest titles on the Vita, in no small part because it is a fresh I.P that sits incredibly well on the platform. You can’t get this anywhere else, and that only adds to the appeal. Overlook some problems with combat and the missed opportunities for greatness, and you have a game worth adding to that growing Vita library.