As one of the few original IP’s revealed for the Vita before launch, Gravity Rush has already gained a lot of positive attention. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is being produced by original Silent Hill director, Keiichiro Toyama. It’s fair to say that the Vita has had a rough time as of late both in terms of sales and content, therefore many early adopters are hoping that Gravity Rush will be the game that finally gets the system back on track. But does this quirky little title signify hope of change or further enhance the sense of disappointment that most of us are feeling right now?
If you’re not up to speed with Gravity Rush (or Gravity Daze as it’s known in Japan), the game is an open world, adventure title with unique gameplay twists and rudimentary RPG elements. You play as a charming teenage girl named Kat who wakes up in the middle of a mysterious town with no memory of who she is or how she got there. To make matters worse, the town is also being attacked by a swarm of black creatures known as Nevi and the townsfolk are relying on you to save the day. Luckily for Kat, she is being accompanied by a magical feline who conveniently grants her the ability to manipulate gravity.
With a tap of the R button Kat hovers slightly above the ground and a cursor appears allowing you to a pre-select a direction for her to float towards. Once the cursor is in place, tapping R again will propel Kat towards that direction while the L button re-centers gravity and sends her tumbling back to the ground. Once in flight, Kat will automatically land on any surface that she touches and the camera will orientate itself if you choose to touchdown on the side of a building or underneath a platform.
The catch is that Kat can only gravity shift for a short period of time and once your gravity gauge has depleted everything will shift back to normal. Thankfully your gauge automatically refills every few seconds and in most cases you’ll be ready to fly again before you even hit the ground. It takes a while to get used to but once you get to grips with the game’s unorthodox flight mechanics you’ll truly start to enjoy it. Unfortunately the fact that Kat sticks to every surface (whether it’s a lamppost or a tower) means you’ll often find yourself painstakingly trying not to touch anything rather soaring majestically through the streets. There’s nothing more frustrating than accidently ending up on the wrong side of gravity and disorientating yourself as the camera struggles to accommodate your new position.
When you’re not flying or being consumed by the game’s beautiful, comic book-inspired cutscenes; chances are you’ll be busy beating the life out of Nevi’s and by “beating” I mean “kicking” as that appears to be Kat’s only method of self defence. For such a combat focused game, GR’s combat system is surprising shallow requiring you to do little more than dodge and kick. By floating you can also perform a more powerful Gravity Kick which allows you to strike airborne or distant enemies but it’s far from precise as you’ll often find yourself zipping past your intended target without making contact. Eventually you’ll unlock new Special Attacks which can be executed periodically but unfortunately the combat never feels as good as it does in the likes of inFamous 2. Kat’s highly publicized Gravity Slide is also a disappointment thanks to cumbersome controls. To perform a slide you need to hold down both thumbs on the bottom corners of the Vita’s screen and tilt the device to steer. It just doesn’t work most of the time and when it does work it still isn’t much fun. Why not allow you to hold down one thumb and use an analog stick to steer instead? Forced motion controls are hardly ever a good idea but apparently Sony Japan didn’t receive the memo.
On a more positive note, GR’s light-hearted and whimsical story is a joy to witness. It’s hard not to fall in love with Kat’s charming mannerisms and I enjoyed watching her develop as a character. Those expecting a grand JRPG adventure may be turned off by the game’s family friendly nature but I personally dug it. Speaking of RPGs, the game does contain many RPG elements including a levelling system, NPCs to interact with and an array of side missions to participate in. However, I found the latter two to be completely unnecessary. NPCs hardly ever had anything interesting to say (unless you were specifically instructed to talk to them) and the side missions are merely timed based challenges that will test your patience and punch you in the face afterwards (via a 30 second load between retry attempts). It’s a shame because these side missions would have been the most efficient way to earn the Precious Gems required to upgrade Kat’s abilities. You can upgrade virtually every part of Kat including her gauge usage, health, strength, gravity powers, special attacks and evade speed. The game really opens up once you’re able to stay airborne for longer than 20 seconds and dishing out more powerful attack slightly improves the miserable combat sequences.
As you can probably tell from the screenshots, Gravity Rush is a beautiful game. The cel-shaded visuals and comic-book aesthetics go hand-in-hand to provide a visually memorable experience. Yes it suffers from occasional slow down and the frame rate isn’t rock solid but who cares? This is still one of the most graphically impressive handheld games ever! The game’s jazzy score is also rather pleasant to listen to but there’s still no English voice acting which may bother some people. It’s also a shame that the whole gravity shifting concept isn’t used in some more inventive ways (ie, to solve puzzles) but as a straight forward adventure title Gravity Rush will keep you entertained for almost a dozen hours.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PlayStation Vita provided by Sony.