No matter from what perspective you look from it’s hard to find originality these days. Unlike previous console generations, the arrival of the HD twins ushered in an attitude in which publishers opted to lower the risk vs. reward factor and merely go for the big reward i.e. selling a ton of units and making boatloads of money. This in turn has resulted in games being released which are merely derivative of each other or are simply yet another installment in a long running franchise. It’s understandable why we may not see as many games take risks today, but when a game does take it a risk it immediately feels elevated compared to its peers; more so when the game is as beautiful and entertaining as Gravity Rush.
Gravity Rush comes at a time which is absolutely perfect for gamers. With compelling software on the PlayStation Vita sadly being as dry as the Sahara desert and interesting games in general being devoid this Summer it’s just good to have something fun to play. I seriously mean that since Gravity Rush is one of those rare games which immediately clicks on all cylinders and never once stops to do something different that would perhaps take away from the core experience. It’s simply non-stop gravity defying action set in an amazing backdrop that has equal parts stylistic charm and mature narrative substance.
As a game Gravity Rush is really unique in just about every way as it’s not something we’ve seen before. Sure, there are elements within the story that may seem familiar as it does seem inspired by manga/anime, but it’s still filled with such rich detail and character that it’s almost shocking – especially when you consider that it’s the first core action-adventure experience to come out of SCE Japan this generation.
Like I said the story in Gravity Rush is kind of familiar at least in how it portrays certain characters and has a slight cheerful mood that is occasionally coupled with a downright depressive tone that is par for the course for something that takes notes from anime. The core narrative drive of Gravity Rush revolves around Kat, a young girl who’s suffering from a case of amnesia and finds herself in the city of Hekseville, a massive metropolis that floats high above an ever growing and rather ominous dark void. With no memories of her own and a stranger in world filled with horrible creatures called the Nevi, Kat must find out about herself all while trying to make a new life within Hekseville and in the process save the city she has gone on to love.
It may sound incredibly corny, but the story in Gravity Rush is actually one of its stronger points as it’s surprising at times and doesn’t shy away from throwing in a few curve balls or moments in which the tone is beyond dire and almost seems like it was written by a nihilist that is a big fan of Christopher Nolan and Osamu Tezuka. The characterizations in Gravity Rush impressed me a great deal as Kat is beyond lovable yet isn’t a dumb lolli girl that happens to prance around in a scantily clad outfit while destroying giant monsters. Kat comes across a real girl in the sense that she’s just trying to figure her life out and the small element of why she can manipulate gravity thanks to Dusty, her ethereal like companion who takes the form of a cat with a cosmic like appearance.
The supporting cast of Gravity Rush plays a huge part in the game as well since it includes fellow Shifters (no, that isn’t a True Blood reference but is what those who can manipulate gravity are called), thieves, and people who aren’t what they appear. There were a few moments in which the story did get a bit sappy by pushing a heartfelt thematic tone, but generally speaking the narrative of Gravity Rush is strong from start to finish and never really lingers on one thing for too long or leaves half a dozen plot threads hanging loose. In fact, I was so impressed with how things unfolded in the game and how the team at SCE Japan embraced the manga formula since the end result is one of the best stories I’ve experienced in a game this year.
Playing Gravity Rush and seeing the game unfold through both rendered cutscenes and those presented in a comic book panel presentation immediately pulled me into the world as it’s both magical, mysterious, and during a few times a bit frightening. And if anyone out there thinks that Gravity Rush pretty much follows a simple narrative formula then let me say that isn’t the case at all since the game goes in some really interesting places during the latter half which had my jaw on the floor at times.
Gravity Rush is unlike anything I had played before and for that I was extremely thankful. These days I’m a bit burned out playing certain games so I was happy to see that Gravity Rush doesn’t borrow an existing element in the 3rd person action genre and then decide to run it into the ground to stamp out any sort of enjoyment to be had. As the name implies, Gravity Rush is all about breaking the rules of gravity by flying, hanging upside down on structures or doing other such feats that are only possible in fantasy worlds.
Being able to say bye to gravity at any given time did seem a bit intimidate me at first, but thankfully the mechanics are easy to grasp and the game does a good job at ramping up the gameplay scenarios to make use of Kat’s extraordinary abilities. Opting to take to the skies of Hekseville was rather easy as all I had to do was press the R button for Kat to suddenly float above ground. From there I could use the on-screen reticule to aim where I wanted Kat to go and in turn shift gravity. Going from one place to another through the means of defying gravity was easy since I could at any time press the R button again to stop Kat and change my path if need be. Gravity shifting does use one of the Vita’s unique feature as I could actually turn my Vita up, down, left, or right to aim Kat in a specific direction – thus “immersing” me into the experience that much more. While a bit gimmicky, using the Vita’s six-axis features to aim Kat did work most of the time but in more hectic combat situations I found it to be better to use the right analog stick but perhaps I’m just too old-fashioned like that.
Early on in the game it was difficult shifting from one place to another since Kat’s powers could only allow her to stay airborne for so long before she would plummet back to the ground. But thankfully the game does an excellent job at providing an easy to use upgrade system which allowed me to boost Kat’s gravity powers as well as her attacks. Stat upgrading is done through the ever traditional game design element of collecting items, in this case gems scattered around the different districts of Hekseville. Collecting thousands of gems may not sound like the most original way to provide an upgrade system, but I found it to be fun as exploring the world allowed me to see how long I could stay airborne and never touch the ground. Just imagine what it’s like to run around and do parkour in a game like Assassin’s Creed, Infamous, or even the cult hit that is Crackdown but take that to the next level with gravity shifting. A few aspects of Gravity Rush’s navigation may feel a bit off as Kat isn’t the most adept person at platforming, but the game truly does a wonderful job at making it fun to fly through the air and feel empowered about it.
Also, when you add in how cool the actual gravity shifting mechanic is the game as a whole has a lot going for it even when I wasn’t engaged in a mission. Seeing Kat’s body move as she flew through the air in a pose that wasn’t confident like Superman but actually showed some vulnerability was unique as were the small visual cues to represent her movement such as her hair and scarf billowing in the wind as I flew from one district to the next. Over time I found myself really mastering Kat’s gravity shifting abilities but one thing that I was never sure of was her combat prowess as Kat isn’t the most proficient fighter out there.
In a game like Gravity Rush it’s hoped for that everything will be the complete package but most of us know that it’s rare for a game to be near perfect as we’re all cynical and like to over analyze everything. With that said I was a bit unimpressed with the combat for Gravity Rush as it’s both too simple and unrefined. Gravity Rush’s combat issues lay in how Kat’s core attack simply consists of a kick attack and a few basic power moves that are slowly unlocked over the course of the game. Thematically the game has some interesting enemies in the form of the Nevi as they consist of airborne types along with massive ground forces that are the size of a small building so it’s not an issue of the enemies being too repetitive. The issue with the combat is that it’s the standard “hit the glowing red spot” and that’s it type ordeal. Using Kat’s gravity kick to deal with enemies was fun at first, but later on in the game I grew weary of how inaccurate it could be, especially in the boss battles which had me facing off against a flying Nevi that looked like it was inspired by Shadow of the Colossus.
The boss battles in the game are thought out well in the sense that they’re not thrown in for the sake of it and have a direct impact on the narrative and the environment at hand. But other than that there’s really not much to any of them other than doing a wash, rinse, repeat attack routine until the health bar is depleted and the cue is made for Kat and Dusty to do their grand anime inspired finish move which does indeed feature a psychedelic colorful backdrop, flashy effects, and grand music. It’s kind of hard to think about what could’ve been done in the game to enhance the combat as it certainly utilizes Kat’s gravity abilities to its full potential. Ideally I think the game would’ve benefited from a few more basic moves being thrown into the mix or at least not limiting Kat’s special moves to recharge basis. Perhaps opting to do something similar to how the special abilities in the Infamous series are handled would’ve resulted in a combat experience that isn’t as one-note as what’s in Gravity Rush.
I wouldn’t say that the combat of Gravity Rush greatly takes away from the game but in a way it does show some weaknesses as to how the missions are designed. Kat’s adventure through Hekseville go in some interesting areas that I wouldn’t had guess to occur, but as the game progressed it seemed like not a lot was done to put Kat and in turn the player in unique scenarios that really pushed the limit of things. In a few cases I was literally saying “holy crap” based on what I was doing as doing a free-fall battle is indeed cool, but the game doesn’t have a lot going for it mission wise other than the gravity shifting mechanic. Now never once did I feel bored with Gravity Rush since the world itself always had me hooked but I just would’ve enjoyed an additional element thrown in or one that didn’t involve killing a specific amount of enemies to proceed.
An absolute constant in Gravity Rush that’s never once made me raise my ever critical eyebrows was how the game looked. Looking at the game it’s surprising to think Gravity Rush is a 1st gen Vita title as it looks amazing due to how the world and characters are rendered. Opting to go for an art direction that’s anime/manga influenced, there’s a divine simplicity in how the game appears but it never once reaches that occasional dull status in which it’s hard to look at a wide eyed character. In fact it’s the exact opposite with Gravity Rush since the world of Hekseville is a true beauty that feels lived in and like it’s an original world that could actually exist at some point in time.
Influenced by late 1800s/early 1900s architecture, Hekseville has an old world look with dozens of brick buildings, elaborate statues, and simple homes but there’s a dense and modern feel to it thanks to thinks like floating ships and other small modern tech touches such as TV screens. The look of the world is very detailed as each of the districts have unique looks complete with different color palates but it’s not done in an overly obvious way that clashes with one another – it just feels cohesive and like it encompasses an actual world that is structured like one and not one that fits the design purposes of a video game.
As I explored Hekseville through the missions that are provided and out of my own enjoyment to collect gems I was constantly wowed by the sights that are offered. The draw distance in the game may not be the greatest as things do pop up and are covered in a slight fog that only shows a small silhouette of what’s up ahead, but reaching a high structure and looking down on everything all while floating in the air is just a cool thing to experience since it isn’t done in that many other games.
For me Gravity Rush is what more games need to be – original, daring, and unique. As a game experience Gravity Rush may not be perfect since the combat is a bit shallow and the missions don’t change things up that much over the course of the campaign. But even with issues such as those I couldn’t help but enjoy myself since the world of Kat and the citizens of Hekseville is intriguing as was the mysteries that were buried. Capturing an essence that has long been absent from games developed by Japanese studios, Gravity Rush is a perfect game to sink some time into as its straight forward fun that’s built around a story that is far from boring. The year may not be over for the PlayStation Vita just yet, but I think the console has found its main GOTY candidate with Gravity Rush.