Gravity Rush is a PlayStation Vita exclusive open world action RPG directed by Keiichiro Toyama and written by Naoko Sato - both known for their work on Siren and the first Silent Hill. It’s like Hayao Miyazaki, Solatorobo, inFAMOUS, and Crackdown had a baby. It’s also by far the best looking and most innovative game on the Vita and one of the best games of the year.
- Gorgeous art direction, level design, and character designs bursting with charm and personality.
- Intriguing story filled with a memorable cast of characters that are sure to spawn countless works of fanart, cosplay, tattoos, etc.
- Massive open world that you’ll want to explore even after the credits roll.
- Some of the later levels are beautifully trippy and have a clever puzzle element to them. They’re so awesome that you’ll probably wish more of the game was like this.
- Combat is often clunky.
- Whack load times.
- Abrupt ending that doesn’t really sum anything up.
In Gravity Rush you play as Kat, a young amnesiac girl who falls from the sky and lands in the town of Hekseville. At first, she seems like your prototypical amnesiac Japanese RPG character, but she quickly evolves past those perceptions and into a likable, memorable video game heroine. Together with her creepy space-cat Dusty, Kat can shift gravity, allowing her to fall in any direction and walk on floors and ceilings. After settling into her new home in the down’s sewage system, Kat puts her powers to good use by helping out the town’s citizens against the Nevi (inky, blobby evil things that are like a cross between the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts and that black stuff Megan Fox pukes up in Jennifer’s Body), thus earning her the nickname Gravity Queen.
The concept is pretty straightforward: tap R to float, aim with either the left analog stick or the Vita’s motion controls, then tap R again to “shift” Kat’s gravitational field in that direction. You can’t float forever, though. There’s a Gravity Gauge keeping you in check that recharges once it’s depleted, but you can upgrade both the gauge and recharge time by collecting gems throughout the city by hurling yourself up, down, and sideways through the air.
It feels like flying. It looks like flying. But it’s really falling with style.
And Gravity Rush is a game just oozing with style. While the game is distinctly Japanese, it also has a certain European flair complete with gothic architecture and steampunky airships. Each city has it’s own unique look backed by a matching soundtrack. Standouts include a cobblestone city with a soundtrack clearly inspired by Miyazaki flicks, and an industrial city heavily reminiscent of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII - even the music in this city sounds like it was from FFVII!
The cities and levels are built perfectly around the game’s gravity-shifting mechanic. At first you’ll find yourself soaring high above skyscrapers to collect gems (the game’s currency used for unlocking challenge missions and upgrading abilities), but once you realize the cities are actually floating, you’ll be adventuring alongside building walls, on ceilings, and even under the cities themselves. But even when you’re upside down and sideways, you can tell that the Project Siren team took precious time and care to ensure every nook and cranny in Gravity Rush functioned well as a platformer. It just would have been nice if they made the boundaries a little more clear; fly too high or fall too low and you’ll instantly be warped back to solid ground. You’ll find that this happens on numerous occasions as you explore the heights and depths of each city.
The character design is gorgeous and each character stands out as highly memorable. Expect to see a good amount of Gravity Rush cosplay in the future. Hopefully there’s some figures of the game’s characters at some point too!
In the beginning of the game, the goal is explore three Rift Planes to restore lost pieces of the city. This is similar to unlocking access to new areas in the Grand Theft Auto games. The Rift Planes are three self-contained platforming levels that require full use of Kat’s gravity-shifting powers to navigate. Later in the game, you have the option of returning to any of the Rift Planes at any time to hunt for more gems, take down rare Nevi, or find one of the special moves that you may have missed.
Each of the four cities are full of optional “Rumor Spots” where you can converse with various NPC’s to gain better insight into the game’s world and story as well as various side missions where the goal is to use a small number of collected gems to restore certain facilities like elevators, factories, and train stations to working condition. Once you do this enough, your reputation will go up, removing the level cap on your skills and abilities. Also, when a facility is restored, it unlocks a challenge mission. Each challenge mission has either a gold, silver, or bronze medal to obtain and pays out a substantial amount of gems, so you’ll want to try at least a few of these in order to power Kat up for the later parts in the game.
Most of the challenge missions are either races where you use your gravity powers to run through checkpoints within a set time limit, races where your Gravity Gauge is depleted and you need to collect gems to power it up while running through checkpoints, or score attack modes where you take on an endless swarm of Nevi until the clock runs out, earning precious extra seconds on the clock with ever few kills. It just sucks when you’re trying to beat a score to earn a new medal and have to keep trying over and over because the load times can get a bit absurd. Thirty seconds may not sound like a long time, but when you’re trying to beat the same 2-minute time trial over and over, it gets a bit lame.
While these challenges were a fun distraction from the main game, it would have been nice to see some more story-oriented stuff thrown into the side missions - even if it were something as simple as “Hey, there’s some bad guys on my roof. Go kill ‘em and I’ll pay you!” It’s really a shame that in such a detailed open world there aren’t more extra missions and variety between missions. It isn’t until one of the last cities in the game that they spice things up with a Street Sweeping side mission that has you picking up boxes and tossing them into a designated area to score points before a timer runs out. They really just could have done a lot more here, but the fact that they didn’t doesn’t necessarily hurt the game to a great degree. Besides, there’s announced DLC later down the road, but it would’ve been nice to have those extra missions already included.
Aside from the highly imaginative gravity-shifting mechanic, Gravity Rush houses an innovative combat system. Kat has a small arsenal of attacks at her disposal: a basic kick that can be done both on the ground or in the air by mashing a single button to preform an acrobatic combo, a more powerful mid-air Gravity Kick that requires a bit more precision to use (this is your bread-and-butter attack that you’l use the most), she can pick things up by using Gravity Fields and then hurl them at baddies, swipe the screen to evade attacks, and there’s three extra powerful special moves that can be found in the Rift Planes. There’s also a Gravity Slide which I rarely ever used as an attack, but it’s cool to use to surf through levels. You put your thumbs on the bottom corners of the Vita screen and steer with the motion controls. There’s a few parts where the bad guys are lined up just right so that you can plow them over in succession, but not enough.
The combat is pretty hit or miss. In most cases I had a blast Gravity Kicking baddies in their glassy, orby, glowing weak spots and flying after Godzilla-sized monstrosities through the streets, but sometimes it could be just plain frustrating. There were times when you’d go to attack an enemy, but they’d dodge it and you zip right past them. This leaves you in a bit of a disoriented awkward spot where you have to get your bearings and adjust the camera to figure out where the eff you are. In doing this, you’re left wide open to the obscene amount of projectile attack that the enemies tend to spew. This could have been fixed either with a manual lock-on button that whipped the camera in the direction of enemy weak points, or by giving Kat some sort of long-distance projectile attack to even the playing field. The long load times after getting killed repeatedly because of the wonky aiming didn’t help much either.
While it takes a bit for the story to fully flesh out, it eventually starts to get really, really good. Custscenes are told in a comic book style where you swipe from one panel to the next on the touchscreen, can pinch-and-zoom, and even tilt the panels using the Vita’s motion controls.
In the third act, the game starts to hint at who Kat is and where she came from, and the levels get weirder and even more awesome - especially a series of dream levels where Kat is stripped of her powers (which happens quite a few times throughout the game) and must navigate Escher-esque minimalist levels that reminded me of a pastel-colored Echochrome. Seriously, the game needed more of this. These levels were gorgeous to look at and they had a unique puzzle element that made them super fun to play.
The only bummer is, once the story gains momentum and starts to feel like it’s going somewhere, it goes in a completely different direction and the game abruptly ends. It’s a huge buildup with absolutely no payoff! The final battle feels more like its own self-contained episode and has very little to do with the main underlying story. I didn’t even know the final battle WAS the final battle when I was playing, so imagine my surprise when, after I beat it, the credits began to role. I know there’s DLC on the way, but give me a break! Would it kill developers to cram a complete experience into a game these days without charging extra for it these days? Sheesh.
While I beat the main story in just under eight hours, with plenty of challenge missions to score gold medals in, rare Nevi to hunt for in the Rift Planes, hidden “Ghost Travelers” to find, and DLC on the way, Gravity Rush offers more than enough to keep players busy.
Combat hiccups and story kinks aside, none of these things sucked to a degree that ever turned me off to the game. Not only is it the best title the Vita has to offer, it’s easily one of the greatest games of 2012. If you’re a Vita owner, not playing this game would be a disservice to yourself, your country, and your brains.