Review: Gravity Rush
By Paul Hunter
Over the last ten months, the PS Vita has been slowly gathering a quality line-up of software titles, and with recent hit games such as LittleBigPlanet and Sound Shapes it might be easy to forget some of the great games that released earlier in the year. One of my absolute favourites is Gravity Rush, and if you’re a new PS Vita owner, or surprising a loved one with a PS Vita this holiday season, I definitely encourage you take a look at this exceptional title.
Gravity Rush is the brainchild of Keiichiro Toyama, best known for his work on the Silent Hill and Siren franchises, who had been toying with the idea of creating a game with a gravity-bending core mechanic for more than ten years. While Gravity Rush is a big departure, in terms of genre, from Toyama’s usual work, it’s certainly among his best.
The game stars Kat, a cheerful blonde girl who finds herself awoken in a strange floating city named Hekseville, with no recollection of how she got there. Adding to the mystery is her new astral cat companion named Dusty that follows her every move, imbuing Kat with the power to bend gravity at will. Like a true superhero origin story, Kat initially wrestles to gain control of her new special ability, which allows her to shift gravity (essentially which direction is “down”) and perform previously impossible feats such as walking up walls and across ceilings.
Kat learns the basics of her gravity altering abilities by accident as she attempts to rescue civilians caught in a mysterious "gravity storm" that is pulling entire chucks of Hekseville into its black hole. At the same time, amorphous, inky creatures named "Nevi" are invading the city and nobody is quite sure why. If all this sounds like a great superhero origin story, it's because it is, and the strong lead character in Gravity Rush is one of the most compelling reasons to play.
Further adding to the superhero vibe, like how individuals in comic books who gain sudden superhuman abilities are often mistrusted by the general public, Kate too is initially suspect by the Hekseville locals. Over the course of the adventure, Kat must not only try to piece together her past, but also attempt to gain acceptance from the townfolks in her home – neither of which are easy tasks.
What’s great about Gravity Rush is how you can identify with Kat as a player throughout the adventure. Perhaps because bending gravity is so rarely used in gaming (and none which implement the feature so effectively), learning how to manipulate the space around you at first can be disorienting. With a simple tap of the R button, gravity can be shifted and suddenly what was up becomes down, and what was down becomes up, so you have to get used to a constantly changing perspective. Reversing the effects of gravity alteration is just as simple, with a tap of the L button causing gravity to right itself, often sending Kat plummeting downward. As Kat becomes acquainted with her new ability, so too did I as the game unfolds, and within the first hour I was already quite adept as shifting perspective.
The 21 episodes in Gravity Rush will have you explore multiple districts in Hekseville, which range from sci-fi looking city streets to sprawling university campuses. The graphics are beautifully cel-shaded, resembling an animated comic book, though at times to oft dark hues of the cityscape get a bit tiring. Hekseville is a semi-open world environment and plenty to see and explore in each district, and I use the word semi because each area isn't very big, and districts are separated by large spacial gaps requiring trains or airboat liners in order to cross.
There are moments in Gravity Rush where Kat ventures into alternative dimensions that are often filled with gigantic mushrooms or odd-looking geometric shapes. Inside these words Kat may experience fluctuations in her powers, such as a reduced ability to alter gravity, or she may even outright lose her gravity shifting power.
To increase Kat's reputation with the cityfolks, she can collect pink gems that can be traded in to repair parts of the city, such as mending a broken bridge. With each successful city repair, a Challenge Mission is unlocked, which is typically a short objective-based mini-game such as speed runs through checkpoints or defeating enemies within a specified time. Successful completion of Challenge Missions will result in more pink gems and submit your scores on the global leaderboards.
Pink gems aren't just used to unlock extra missions, they're also the in-game currency used to upgrade Kat's abilities. There are several types of upgrades, including her Core Powers such Health or Shifting Speed, and you can also upgrade Combat Powers including her basic Kick and more advanced Gravity Kick. After certain milestones in the game, Kat will learn Special Attacks, ranging from the basic Spiraling Claw to the more powerful Gravity Typhoon and Micro Black Hole.
Gravity Rush includes motion control, and thankfully it's implemented quite well. Swiping the front touch screen will make Kat perform a dodge roll, and is quite useful to chain attacks or escape from battle. It's simple to perform, and while it requires taking your thumb off the analog stick, I felt it didn't hamper the gameplay in any way. There are also sections requiring you to place two fingers on the touch screen which initiates Kat's gravity slide, and then tilting the PS Vita will cause directional shifts. While the gravity slide moments are far and few between, they are enjoyable while they last. The most satisfying uses of touch controls has to be during boss battles as you're required to tap the screen to execute the final blow, which is surprisingly satisfying.
Enemy Nevi range is size from small and sluggish to (later in the game) massive creatures that can fill your entire screen. Each Nevi creature has a weak spot, identified by a bright red spot on their body, and this is the only area in which attacks will register damage. While it's an intuitive system, combat can occasionally be quite frustrating as you constantly shift gravity while trying to pinpoint enemy weakness, which for the largest of Nevi can be quite the chore.
Cutscenes in Gravity Rushare presented a la comic book panel style, very similar to say inFAMOUS or the classic Sega Genesis game Comix Zone. What's more, the comic book panels have a pseudo-3D effect, allowing you to use the PS Vita gyroscope to look around and in behind the objects within each panel.
Gravity Rush is great new IP from Sony and with the inclusion of Kat in the recently release PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and murmurs of a sequel, it seems like Sony intends on keeping this franchise alive. Considering how much fun I had with Gravity Rush, and how easy it is to recommend (despite some minor flaws), it's great to think Kat's story may continue some day. If you've got a PS Vita, Gravity Rush will make a nice addition to your games library, assuming it's not already there.
Gravity Rush is available now, exclusively for PS Vita. The game was developed by Sony Japan Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
Gravity Rush is rated T for Teen by the ESRB.
[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]