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FTG Review: Gravity Rush (PS Vita)

 

Even immediately after E3, the PlayStation Vita is a tough sell. There’s no denying the hardware and features are there, but the game library (so far, at least) is underwhelming. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was one of the handheld’s strongest offerings, but hardly a must-buy and far from a system seller. But Gravity Rush

This is a different breed. Strike that – Gravity Rush is a new breed, something floating atop the sea of gaming sameness in a way that endears you to both the adventure in your hands and the non-gimmicky way in which you control it. If you reluctantly own a Vita, Japan Studio’s Gravity Rush is your justification. If you don’t, here’s as good an excuse as any to join the club.

So what the Hekseville is happening, then?

You play as Kat, an amnesic gravity shifter who’s literally fallen into the floating town of Hekseville. The place has been ravaged by recent gravity storms, splintered into several pieces and left adrift in the sky. Once Kat discovers her powers, she gradually works to restore the city and win over its residents while constantly fighting off mysterious enemies know as the Nevi.

At points during the beginning and middle, the narrative can get pretty non-consequential (playing dress up and chatting with school students for clues?) , but once you start finding out what’s really going on and Kat begins to recover her memory, things change quickly: complications start compounding, and mind-bending elements are revealed that would even have Neil deGrasse Tyson turning his head.

I’m aware of how this image may be misinterpreted, but I’ve chosen it to showcase the comic book-style narrative anyway. Caption contest!

If that sounds a little heavy, don’t worry: the entire game is so chock full of cell-shaded anime charm and fun at every moment that the only time a frown might cross your face is while falling short of gold in a challenge by half a second. Gravity Rush’s world is far from the dull browns, blacks, and grays of realistic FPSs, RPGs, and open world games, but not so far as the disproportionately cartoony Mario or Rayman. Think Journey, but with cities, combat, dialog, and actual fun times.

You’ve never felt so good about falling

At least half of those fun times will be had simply exploring Hekseville. The city itself is big enough to keep you busy for hours as you track down every stat-boosting gem and take on various challenges, but not so big as to overwhelm. In fact, you could shoot up to the sky and fly across the entire world in matter of a minute or two. It’s the verticality of Hekseville that adds literal depth to exploration. Brilliant design means there are meticulously detailed surfaces everywhere, all of which you can walk on given that gravity is your personal plaything.

No surface is off limits.

Oh, right – I haven’t mentioned how exactly Kat gets around. It would be more accurate to say Kat “falls” around Hekseville as opposed to “flies.” Tap the right bumper and Kat will suspend in midair, leaving you free to point the appearing reticule with the right stick or the Vita’s gyroscope. Once you’ve chosen target, press RB again and Kat resets her personal gravity in that direction, falling fast until gravity is suspended once more, you run out of meter, or you slam into a surface (don’t worry, no fall damage in Gravity Rush). At any time during these processes, tapping LB will revert gravity (and the screen) to normal, sending Kat plummeting in the proper direction. It’s disorienting at first, but once you get this system down to a science, traversal becomes pure joy.

Well of course there are RPG elements

What would an open world game be without tangible incentives for exploring? Gems – gathered either from around the city or by completing fiendishly difficult challenges – can be distributed among Kat’s wide array of skills. About half of these skills involve how quickly and effectively Kat can move, whereas the other half are devoted to the heroine’s crazy combat abilities.

Swipe to dodge!

Kat can kick her Nevi foes in the standard button-mashing fashion, but given how mobile she is, you’ll rarely be on the ground long enough during combat for her triple roundhouse combo to even enter your mind. Your primary means of attacking a Nevi’s glowing orange weak point are: the Gravity Kick, a lock-on dive through the air at high speed, feet first; the Stasis Field Throw, where you pick up and chuck loose objects using a gravity field; and your three special moves, which essentially turn Kat into an invincible, death-dealing goddess for a few seconds.

No hardware gimmicks, just supplements

We all know a gimmick when we see one. Swiping your finger in a zigzag pattern across the screen prompting Nathan Drake to cut through some bamboo with a machete comes to mind. Gravity Rush avoids these shenanigans by adopting a reductionist approach to both motion and touch control. Checking a challenge on your map? Tap it. Flipping through the comic book-style story? Swipe your finger (only if you want, there’s always the button). Trying to perfectly line up your next shift or gravity kick? Tilt the system.

The Gravity Slide lets you shoot along any surface - even if it's upside down

That’s right, Gravity Rush somehow gets you to regularly tilt your Vita in a useful, dignifying fashion. Use the right stick to line up your reticule for certain actions; tilt the system to make tiny refinements. The result is amazing precision. Turn up the sensitivity high enough, and you barely need move your hands at all. And if you still can’t cope with motion controls, there’s always the freedom to turn them off.

The token section where I stop fawning for five seconds

So the deep, evolving story I mentioned earlier? Well, it all ends abruptly with very little closure, leaving many of those plot twists as lingering ambiguities for all but the most attentive players. Normally, this would hardly be a negative (just play it again, dummy!), but Gravity Rush’s method of quick and simple wrap-up clashes horrifically with the increasingly complicated events that lead up to it. Just when you think some Final Fantasy-level revelation is about to blow your mind, the credits roll.

And I’ve never experienced motion sickness while playing video games, but Gravity Rush will destroy the stomach and/or brain of anyone even remotely susceptible. Seriously. Your primary method of movement is falling in any conceivable direction. Add tall buildings, flying enemies, target-based combat, gyro controls, and speed?

Kat has an iron stomach; do you?

Got a Vita? Buy Gravity Rush

Simple as that. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen or played before, it’s simultaneously accessible and challenging, and it uses the hardware in a smart, digestible manner. After 10 hours, there are still challenges I need to ace, gems I’ve left floating around, and hidden bosses that need defeating. Gravity Rush is the first truly great game for the PlayStation Vita – and that’s apart from being a truly great game, period.

9.5 review score