Gravity Rush represents a sort of beacon of hope for Playstation Vita owners. It’s a full-fledged game featuring a new IP, with some serious muscle behind it. Unlike most of the other games released on the Vita during its young life, Gravity Rush isn’t attempting to piggyback off of another console’s success, nor is it a port or a remake. It’s completely unique in the Vita’s catalog.
But is it any good?
From an audio/visual standpoint, playing Gravity Rush is a treat. Each town in the game has a distinct look and theme, with the steampunk browns of Auldnoir to the Triplets of Bellville-infused style of Pleajeune. The art is strong throughout, with main character Kat distinctly animated amongst the crowds of people you’ll come across. The Rift areas are also amazing, offering colorful dreamscapes that look unlike anything else in the game. The visuals are accompanied by a tremendous and varied score, with sweeping violins in one area, playful keys in another, and more aggressive electronic music in another. For anyone doubting the Vita’s power (as I was after playing Mortal Kombat), Gravity Rush is a reason to stand up and take notice. It’s a gorgeous game with a strong sense of place and a tremendous aesthetic both in terms of visuals and sound. I would be remiss if I did not mention the architecture of Hakesville, itself a layered labyrinth of corridors, ledges, and buildings. Exploring the areas by flying around from one part of town to another is blissful in a way that I haven’t experienced since Spiderman 2 on the original Xbox. It’s easy, it’s fluid, and it’s painless, and the architecture ensures that it’s always interesting to explore.
The problem with Gravity Rush is that anytime you try to do something quickly, the controls don’t hold up. In many ways, it feels like the Japanese title (Gravity Daze) is more what the developers were striving for. When floating in zero-gravity, the game takes on a dreamlike quality that definitely leaves you dazed. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the weakest part of the game. The boss battles in particular suffer from a sort of imprecision, as trying to line up precise attacks using the Gravity Kick feels near impossible. The combat is at its best when you are zipping back and forth between enemies, pouncing on them with Gravity Kicks that propel you from enemy to enemy. There is also a segment wherein you fight another individual who controls gravity, and that is a highlight of the game.
One definite highlight of the gameplay is the traversal using the gravity controls. SCE Japan Studio made three design decisions that make the traversal and exploration so much fun. The first is that Kat’s hair and scarf always reacts to “real” gravity, so if you pay attention to Kat, you’ll always know which way is up. Secondly is that Kat is invulnerable to high falls. There are few things as thrilling as falling from heights in this game, and the multi-leveled cities allow for some tremendous leaps of faith. The third is that the gravity gauge recharges very quickly, so it is almost always possible to save yourself while falling. This encourages experimentation and risk-taking while exploring, and jumping off the side of the map is usually the best way to find the purple gems that you use to upgrade Kat’s powers.
Kat herself is a wonderful character. Despite some early frivolity with finding furniture for her home, the story and the character remain serious throughout. The story itself goes to unexpected places that reference philosophers such as Descartes and Hume. It is nice to see a game take a female character seriously and treat her with respect. The story is stirring and emotional, as Kat searches to discover who she really is within the strange town of Hekesville.
The Vita’s touch and accelerometer controls are put to good use during the game’s many comic-book style interludes. Moving the Vita causes the “panels” to shift and rotate, giving the visuals a depth that is not apparent on the surface. It’s not the most critical incorporation of the Vita’s abilities, but it’s a cool little touch. The touchscreen is used in lieu of a cursor on the map and upgrade system, and it works just fine.
Gravity Rush succeeds on many levels, but it feels like the game needed a little bit more time to focus on the gameplay elements, whether that be lessening some of the elements that don’t work (the boss battles), or accentuating some of the elements that do (exploration). As it stands, my excitement for the Vita is renewed by Gravity Rush. If more developers follow SCE Japan’s lead and create colorful, interesting worlds for gamers to explore on the Vita, this thing could have some legs.
A copy of Gravity Rush for Vita was purchased by the reviewer for this review.