The PlayStation Vita is quite the capable unit and it had a great launch lineup in our estimation. But it needs a continuous influx of quality titles to keep consumers interested and thankfully, games like Gravity Rush could have a positive impact on Vita sales. Furthermore, with the highly anticipated Resistance: Burning Skies launching next week, owners of Sony’s slick new portable should be excited.
This gravity-defying effort features plenty of anime and sweet design; the Vita’s significant power is definitely on display throughout. If you want to get all anal, you can easily zoom in and spot some blurriness and jaggies you wouldn’t normally find in an elite PlayStation production. But the character illustration, animations, world design, and special effects are all of the highest handheld caliber, and the comic book approach to storytelling works extremely well (especially because it utilizes the tilt functionality). In short, Gravity Rush looks great.
The sound is right up there with the visual presentation, as we get decent voiceover performances, a solid soundtrack, and a set of audio effects that add prominent spice to every leap and strike. That invigorating music not only fits the style and atmosphere, it understands that this game thrives on two things above all else: The visual feast for the eyes that involves toying with gravity, and the fact that we are typically focused on a particular target. The music and effects play a secondary role in this respect, but they play such a supplemental role exceedingly well.
From the outset, you will be intrigued at the situation. You play as Kat, a girl who mysteriously ends up with gravity-altering powers thanks to an even more mysterious black cat. However, she soon finds that she isn’t the only one with such powers, and people like her are viewed with suspicion and even hostility. At the same time, she’s just trying to come to grips with her amazing new ability, so she’s not altogether graceful and powerful when she first starts. That may sound annoying, but it’s part of Kat’s charm, which is critical to the game's appeal.
If you couldn’t guess from the title alone, playing with gravity is a big part of the experience. With a simple press of the button, you will leave the safety of solid ground and hover, at which time you can aim for either a new landing place (which could be a vertical wall; everything is fair game in the realm of no gravity) or an irritating enemy. You can either control your mid-air movements with the analog stick, or leave it up to the motion sensing mechanic in the Vita. The latter is a lot tougher but somehow even more fun…your arms will go into contortions.
At first, it can be a little daunting and even frustrating. You’re not quite confident of your anti-grav capabilities and if you lose your power in the midst of a mid-air assault, you’ll come crashing back to earth. And that’s just about as disorienting as you might expect. The good news is that there are always helpful red icons that point out the enemies (even if they can still be tough to spot against the background), and you can always do battle on the ground. It’s not nearly as captivating but it works well enough; the only problem involves swiping the screen to dodge.
While this mechanic is fully functional, I’m not the biggest fan of combining touch and standard mechanics in fast-paced gameplay. Constantly moving your fingers between the buttons and the screen gets a little tiring and it’s inevitable that your accuracy will falter. On the flip side, dodging is as simple as swiping the screen with a finger, and you don’t have to swipe in any given direction, either. So just a quick swipe to dodge an incoming attack and then switch back to pounding the square button to execute a series of attacks that results in quick combos.
It’s fine but air combat is definitely where it’s at. That’s where you can launch yourself at almost defenseless enemies, and the farther the distance you travel before hitting, the more damage you deal. …why did that remind me of the Champions in Hereos of Might and Magic III ? Anyway. Flying around and slamming into enemies can be tricky but it’s immensely satisfying and besides, Kat does earn a series of upgrades as you progress. These are great because they not only alleviate some of that initial frustration, but they properly empower the player.
Perhaps surprisingly, all of this is set within an open-world sandbox environment, which you are free to explore. As with most sandbox games, you can accept various missions – some optional, some story-based – and earn experience for the sake of the aforementioned upgrades. The only downside is that despite the city’s decent size, there isn’t much to interact with and it feels kind of barren. It just isn’t the thriving metropolis we’re used to seeing these days, and this may be the only sacrifice made for the sake of the platform. That being said, the freedom remains a draw.
That freedom, which is indeed attractive, combined with the overriding fun factor, is what makes this game such a blast to play. Even when things are frustrating and disorienting – which can be common, especially during the first few hours – the entertainment remains high. There’s always plenty to see and do, Kat is a cool and even sympathetic character, and the mid-air antics just never get boring. It’s innovative and inventive at the same time, and even if some of the optional missions are silly, you’ll never say, “okay, I’m getting tired of this.”
It’s that addictive feel that permeates much of Gravity Rush . I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that challenges me so much on a basic mechanical level, and still fulfills just about every need I have for top-notch interactive entertainment. It’s a bizarre marriage, one that has you smile and grit your teeth simultaneously. The control isn’t perfect, the AI can be annoying, and the open world isn’t as lively as I would’ve hoped, but there’s no denying this title’s creative appeal. At the very least, it’s a must-try for all the Vita owners out there.
The Good: Excellent visual presentation. Defying gravity never stops being fun. Character and story are compelling. Getting stronger is absolutely addictive. Vita-specific features work well.
The Bad: Can be frustrating and disorienting. Sandbox environment is a little lackluster. Control isn’t always perfect.
The Ugly: “Okay, where am I now?”