If you look back at the launches of major consoles in recent memory, the launch â€świndowâ€ť usually contained at least one major, brand-name release that kept early adopters and cautiously interested gamers holding their breath. The launch of the Xbox360 had the imminent promise of Halo3 on the horizon. The launch of the Nintendo Wii had an admittedly shoe-horned Zelda, and the promise of Super Mario Galaxy and Smash Brothers Brawl, among others. Even the 3DS had a new Mario, an update of what is generally considered the greatest game of all time (Ocarina), and the promise of Kid Icarusâ€™ first appearance in a life-time. While not all were available immediately on the consoleâ€™s release, all were just out of reach such that new console owners could contentedly feel good about their purchase while those saving up their money to obtain one had an optimistic view of the gameâ€™s future library. It is generally considered an ominous sign, then, when the faithfulâ€™s hope for a new system is placed squarely on the shoulders of an unknown and unproven new franchise. In the months after the Playstation Vitaâ€™s launch in America, the outlook was grim. Other than the launch day availability of a decent Uncharted, without any hint of a God of War, an Infamous or even a Killzone, all nervous PSV owners hopes and dreams rested in a new I.P out of Sonyâ€™s Japan Studio called Gravity Rush. Most Sony fans followed the gameâ€™s development with rabid interest. Itâ€™s graphics were strikingly current-gen, and gameplay vids suggested its gravity defying antics might bring something new to portable gaming. Well, Gravity Rush is here and while it is not necessarily the resounding vindication of Playstation Vitas everywhere, it is an extremely quality portable title that every Vita owner should play.
Gravity Rush – or Gravity Daze, in Japan – is a third person, pseudo-open world adventure game that takes place in a militaristic, steam-punk floating city that has recently been ravaged by gravity storms and attacks from a mysterious enemy known as the Nevi. Into this scene falls Kat, a plucky young lady who arrives on the scene with amnesia, a mane of blonde hair, and the time-and-space bending ability to control the flow of gravity thanks to her cosmic feline companion she names â€śDustyâ€ť. Within moments of getting your bearings, they will be turned upside down as Kat (and you) desperately tries to get her head around the gameâ€™s most prominent mechanic. With the touch of a button, Kat can be suspended in mid-air and may then aim herself in a desired direction and redirect gravityâ€™s flow such that she then â€śfallsâ€ť forward. It is in this way that 99% of your time traversing Gravity Rushâ€™s world and it is precisely this element of the game that makes the title so apropos: Gravity Rush is truly a rush to play.
Kat begins the game in a central hub of a city that is clearly fragmented. Great portions of the city have been carried off by a nearby gravity storm and Katâ€™s adventures will soon see her reclaiming them despite the desires of shady politicians and a fairly omnipresent military state. Along the way Kat will interact with townspeople, soldiers, a mysterious masked villain who may be behind the nevi menace, and a raven-haired (and named) young girl with powers strikingly similar to her own but a bone to pick with Kat. While Gravity Rushâ€™s story will not win any awards, it is sufficiently interesting to keep you playing and told through stylish and surprisingly effective comic-panel intermissions. Kat herself is an unyieldingly optimistic and bubbly character and as a protagonist, represents a breath of fresh air compared to any number of other blonde-haired manic-depressive amnesiacs that come to mind.
Gameplay is broken up into story missions, side-missions, and challenges, all pasted together by hours and ours of simple free-falling exploration. Indeed, Gravity Rushâ€™s greatest strength is in its manipulation of gravity. Whether using the analogue sticks or the Vitaâ€™s stereoscopic motion sensor to aim, it is an absolute joy to propel yourself about the city, through large church spires, ferris wheels, or even beneath the city itself at break-neck speeds. Within an hour or two you will soon feel as if the forces of nature itself are in the palm of your hand (or Vita, as the case may be) as you stop Kat on a dime mid-air, only to send her off to a distant rooftop or air-ship. Seemingly endless gems are placed about the world to collect and these serve as the currency with which Katâ€™s abilities are leveled up. You can choose from extending Katâ€™s life, combat abilities, or her control of gravity itself. Gravity Rush is a game in which one can lose hours simply traversing and collecting, exploring hidden niches for a few more gems, or simply seeing how far you can fall.
Unfortunately combat does not fare quite so well.Â Katâ€™s moves are limited to a kick and dodge on ground, and a gravity kick while falling, with a few variations and special attacks thrown in for good measure. Without a lock-on system however, far too many attacks miss their target which often has the result of sending you off into the great void, disoriented and lost. While the battle system is not completely broken it is by far the gameâ€™s weakest asset.Â Few battles will truly challenge you, you spend more time wrestling with the gameâ€™s lack of a targeting system than you do taking down itâ€™s multitude of bosses all with the same enormous glowing weak spot.
Visually, Gravity Rush is a showcase piece for the Vita. With vibrant colors and an anime-inspired aesthetic, it is truly in the upper echelon of hand-held gaming experiences. The various regions of the City consist of wonderfully diverse architecture, from the military state, to the red-light district, to a city of children, toÂ several inter-dimensional locales I will not spoil here.Â All are a triumph of world building. Unfortunately after building these beautiful locales, Japan Studio neglected to populate them with much to do. At times, Gravity Rush feels like an open world that forgot to have a game included. Despite their abundance, most pedestrians, soldiers and townfolk cannot be interacted with, and the NPCs who can be conversed with are limited to one or two per district at any given moment. Â Furthermore, despite the unlockable challenges (time-attack, gravity races, land-locked races, etc), there is stark little to do other than the story missions when you are done with your aimless wandering. You can collect gems, search for the ghostly â€śvisitorsâ€ť, and try to beat your best challenge times, but you will soon find yourself return to story missions simply to press onwards. It is worth mentioning, however, that the day 1 DLC that came free with pre-orders consists of two of the most interesting gameplay missions in the entire game and is definitely worth a play if you enjoy the game proper.
Audio design is serviceable. Dialog is primarily conveyed through speech balloons and the occasional exclamatory sound-byte. Music shifts from light spirited and dreamy to marching and ominous to fit the locale. The constant barking of state-run megaphones and monitors provide a sufficiently military vibe to the world.
Gravity Rush seems to end just as it begins to accelerate which is a shame. Far more questions are raised than answered by the gameâ€™s finale and there is an almost insulting gap of information left for either DLC or a future sequel to fill. It is a testament to Gravity Rush, however, that upon completing the game, the Vita owner is left with dreams of what future installments might hold. Gravity Rush is not the perfect game but it is a shining example of what the Vita is capable of. By giving you an entire world and its gravity in the palm of your hands, this unassuming little game is very easy to fall head over heels for.
Fun Factor: More fun than you are used to having in the palm of your hands. Wellâ€¦.maybe.
Difficulty: If you die more than once throughout the entire adventure you should probably be playing Star Wars Kinect.
Length: Variable based on your desire for exploration, but most should get at least 8-10 hours of play-time with only moderate diversion.
On the Negative Side: Combat system is frustrating, world feels empty at times, but neither enough to ruin the overall experience.
Bang for your Buck: At below $40 at most outlets, this is one portable game worth putting the cash down for.