Last Black Friday I purchased a Playstation Vita and part of the scandalously good bundle was a few months of free Playstation Plus. One of the perks of this was being able to download Gravity Rush for free, and I don’t think there was a better way for me to start my Vita ownership. The story of a girl and her cat, Gravity Rush is a unique and charming game full of saturated colors, sweeping city vistas, and revealing outfits that’s difficult to compare to anything else, at least anything else currently on the Playstation Vita.
Our story opens when a blonde amnesiac (because what else would she be?) falls out of the sky and into the floating city of Hekseville. Alone with no memories, our heroine is lead by a strange cosmic kitty she decides to name “Dusty.” Dusty is no ordinary cat however, as he grants her the power to shift gravity and fly through the air. After a brief crash course, and I do mean crash, in controlling gravity she receives the name “Kat” from a friendly police officer because hey, it fits. From then on Kat and Dusty go out into the city to fend for themselves and investigate the appearance of strange blob like monsters called the “Nevi.” Throughout this investigation they clash with the military, monsters, and a mysterious rival shifter.
Cut scenes are rarely in-engine, and are primarily shown through a comic book style story board. While the presentation is stylish and Kat is a very charming protagonist, the story is probably the weakest part of the game. I wouldn’t say I was left hungry, rather it would be more accurate to say I was never fed at all. Characters are fairly static, and many of the questions we ask are never answered. On one hand I could see this as framing for a sequel, but it was a bit of a disappointment. At certain points, you are constrained to smaller areas by the plot and the game can lose it’s feeling of freedom and exploration, arguably it’s strongest point. These sequences are few in number, but can be stifling.
Despite the skinny story, the core gameplay is where the game truly shines. Platforming is a genre that’s been around since dear old grandpa Mario, and it’s a genre that’s difficult to innovate. The last few successful platforming series such as Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, or Jak and Daxter, found success by taking steps not to be purely a platformer. Gravity Rush does this artfully and uniquely by jumping off of the ground and never landing. With a quick press of the right shoulder button Kat lifts off of the ground shifts gravity in the direction you want. You can stall and hover in the air, or crash into a flat surface to realign gravity. The process can be a bit clumsy at first, but once you get a feel for it you’ll be zipping across the city and nailing graceful landings, which is awesomely fun. In addition to simply shifting direction, Kat can also slide along the ground, and pick up loose debris in a stasis field to lob at Nevi. Skills can be leveled up through spending gems you find throughout the city or win from challenge missions. This kind of gives the game an RPG aspect to it, but gems are so common that you will almost never be short on cash. You are more likely to be paced by the story, which unlocks higher ability levels as you progress.
The combat is varied enough to stay fun, but suffers from a few flaws. Like you may have guessed, Nevi are not exactly subtle about where their weak points are. Most combat scenarios boil down to shifting into the air, pointing at a monster and hitting the square button. This makes Kat dive bomb kick at the glowing orb and shatter it. That’s really the most efficient way to go at combat situations. Kat is equipped with a flashy kick based ground combo and dodges, but it simply doesn’t compete with the aerial kick. There is a small list of cool, powerful special attacks for sticky situations that require you to take out multiple powerful foes, but unfortunately does little to add to the games depth. Sure, we can argue whether the projectile based Gravity Typhoon is better than the circular Micro Black Hole, but at the end of the day having only three special attacks just feels thin. Gravity sliding and stasis are also underutilized, and are generally restricted to challenge missions. Despite the relatively shallow bag of tricks you have, the Nevi themselves are varied enough to keep the combat fresh.
To give the game more staying power there is a variety of timed challenge missions in each of the several districts of Hekseville. These can range from time attack Nevi brawls to sliding races. Completing within the time limits nets you gems and trophies. While these missions are a pleasant diversion, you kind of hit a ceiling early on. Despite this, the game gives you plenty of challenges to distract yourself with. Beyond these base challenge missions, there are also three downloadable content packs with extra missions and costumes, but I did not get a chance to purchase any of these yet.
Throughout my experience in Gravity Rush I had a lot of trouble comparing it to anything else, but I had a bit of an epiphany; Gravity Rush is successful in all the same ways as other games like Shadow of the Colossus. I’ve always used the metaphor that Shadow is kind of like a gilded skeleton: while there isn’t much meat on its bones, what’s there is beautiful. Both games have paltry story lines, but are successful in developing the core idea they wanted to. Shadow turns killing giant monsters into art and Gravity Rush turns gravity shifting into an art. Both games are also very notable for their distinct visual styles, but are sort of on opposite ends of the spectrum. Shadow was famous for its washed out pallete, bloom lighting, and realistic character models, while Gravity Rush goes whole sale with bright saturated colors and cel-shaded character models. Both are artfully deceptive in how simple but unique they are.
Despite it’s flaws, Gravity Rush was a very memorable game. Its vast sweeping metropolis gave a great sense of freedom, and the charming characters were lovely despite the skinny narrative. I even loved the game enough to get its platinum trophy. Above all, I appreciate the length the game goes to be unique in the line up of Vita games. The very best description I have for Gravity Rush is that it’s a lot like losing your virginity; it’s quick, confusing, but wonderful all at the same time. Gravity Rush was the perfect start to my Vita and I’m certainly hoping for more adventures in the future with Kat the Gravity Queen.
Leaps and Bounds:
- +Controlling gravity is a blast
- +Stunning visuals and saturated colors are gorgeous
- +Kat is a very charming young lady
- -Combat is fairly shallow
- -Low content ceiling, outside DLC
- -The rest of the story is pretty thin
Final Score: 8/10