The PlayStation Vita is being sold on the promise of providing home console-like experiences in the palm of your hands. For those who feared this may mean a torrent of console ports were in store, let Gravity Rush put your mind at ease – as not only is this an original franchise with an all-new world to explore, but it provides a game with a length and depth comparable to many home console titles. It’s also pretty damn fun, to boot.
The world of Gravity Rush is a strange one indeed – a giant stone column forms the center of the world, with cities branching off it in mid-air like a tree. This strange metropolis is known as Hekesville, and it is where Kat finds herself after falling into its lower depths. Suffering amnesia, she finds she has a companion in the form of a strange cat she names ‘Dusty’, who allows her to shift gravity for herself, enabling her to walk on walls, hurl towards enemies or fly. After finding the city under attack by strange creatures called ‘Nevi’, she becomes the city’s protector of a sort, as she tries to make a life for herself and learn more about this world.
Kat is a very likable protagonist – she’s optimistic, funny and heroic when it matters. She has some goofy moments and is occasionally prone to bouts of vanity, but she doesn’t conform to any real stereotype. The city around her is equally interesting, with strange origins and a surreal quality that many of its inhabitants share. You also feel as though you have a real influence on it, as the city grows from distrusting ‘Shifters’ to celebrating Kat as their hero.
Flying may be the wrong word for what Kat is capable of in Gravity Rush. As Buzz Lightyear best put it, it’s ‘falling with style.’ At first, it’s difficult getting your bearings as you limit Kat’s shifts to nearby walls and try to figure out which way is up. However, as you play through the game and level up Kat in the somewhat-obligatory upgrade system, your freedom increases and the way you use the game’s space changes. Rather than running around and using walls as short cuts, you’ll start to hitch rides on flying ships or trains. Eventually, you’ll be able to fall up into the air and towards the various sections of the city on your own steam, much like Superman, but without the power-fist pose. Finding different ways to utilise Kat’s powers for exploration are rewarded through the inclusion of ‘Travelers’ – a pair of lost souls who appear in various hard-to-reach locations. Their story is intriguing enough to motivate you find them all, although it sadly lacks any real kind of resolution. But more on that later.
Kat has a range of moves, including using her gravity powers to slide down surfaces, create gravity bubbles to lift objects and hurl them, and perform special attacks like creating miniature black holes. All of these are great ideas, and most work well – it’s only when you have to use the Vita’s motion sensor that things can get a little tricky. The Vita’s gyroscope is usually only optional when looking around or picking targets, but when Kat’s gravity sliding it becomes your only method of control, which given its weird sensitivity, can be frustrating. Also, sliding requires you to place two fingers on the touch-screen, which is a prime way to get some unneeded smudges on the Vita’s smear-attracting screen. There are also plenty of side-missions to keep you busy, although they mostly take the form of time attack challenges around the city.
Ultimately, Kat’s gravity powers make Gravity Rush just a really fun game to play. Shifting, sliding and falling around Hekesville is a joy, and the story missions give you ample opportunity to test out your skills – although there are a few too many ‘let’s deprive Kat of her gravity powers’ setups for my personal liking. It’s rare to find a portable game I choose to play at home over everything else, but Gravity Rush has been my go-to game for the last couple of weeks.
The city of Hekesville looks amazing, with a cel-shaded comic-book style mixed with sunset hues creating a very cool world for you to explore. The sheer bizarre nature of this universe makes a great invitation to explore and see more, from the highest buildings to the steel-girder framework holding up the city. This is all backed by a great orchestral soundtrack as well, surprising to see on a portable game like this, but nonetheless welcome.
I do have some problems with Gravity Rush, some which I find more detrimental than others. For one, I think the combat really needs a decent lock-on system, as right now it takes far too long to swing Kat around to find her target in mid-air, making the time spent in most battles a matter of aiming and watching Kat follow a straight path towards her foe with a gravity kick. If you were able to instantly identify targets and aim at them, this would allow for a faster, more fluid experience rather than the stop-start flow of battle that is present now.
The story is also far too Prometheus-like (this is, sadly, now a term I can use) in that it leaves far too much unanswered. Kat’s backstory, the rules which govern her bizarre world, and explanations for some of the big components of the story are all discussed, but only up until a point. It feels like we’re, say, 40% of the way to understanding what is going on, and for a game that is not guaranteed a sequel, you do come away with the feeling that more should have been addressed. Instead, the game is content to make up a handful of plot points virtually out of thin air in the last few missions, and chooses just to resolve those. It undercuts the sense that the game is building towards something when the pieces of information you gradually gather about the doomsday-like events to come are swept aside for a rather unexciting climax.
Even given these problems, I’d be lying if I didn’t say Gravity Rush is one of the best portable games I have ever played. It’s right up there with must-own Vita titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048, although I have to say I think I may have enjoyed it slightly more than those great games. If you’re looking for a big, original world to explore, new ways to experience a game’s playing space and a cool (if unresolved) storyline, and you own a Vita, then Gravity Rush is unmissable.