Ever since I first got my hands on a Vita, I've been waiting for a novel game to shine on this little black console. One that isn't just a spin-off from a ‘sure-thing’ franchise like Uncharted, Harry Potter, and Resistance. A game that uses the Vita's hardware and small form factor in an interesting and unique way.
But I was never expecting anything quite as mad as what I encountered in Gravity Rush...
As you would guess from the title, this game revolves around gravity; specifically, defying physics. At the press of a button, you can be completely weightless, floating in mid-air as if in suspended animation. While in this mode you can look all around you, from the skyscrapers above to the bustling market streets below and re-orientate the world to suit your centre of gravity. You will be constantly re-evaluating the Z axis just to know which way is up.
This simple control dynamic opens up a wealth of gameplay, from walking on walls and ceilings, soaring through the air and manipulating objects with gravitational pull, to solving puzzles or defeating enemies. In a lot of ways, Gravity Rush feels like a tech-demo, where exploring and manipulating a vibrant fantasy world with breathtaking animations is worth the price of admission alone.
But Gravity Rush is much more than just a pretty physics platformer. The game adds in a detailed combat engine as well, letting you combine your gravity defying acrobatics with roundhouse kicks, sliding attacks, projectiles, and more. You’ll also be running around talking to people, being sucked into an epic storyline, and engaging in pseudo-RPG elements too. And while none of these aspects are unique, it’s the way everything is packaged together in Gravity Rush that makes this the most memorable Vita experience I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
A lot of this comes down to the visuals of the game. Gravity Rush looks like a beautifully illustrated anime with stunning cel-shaded artwork. The colours are vivid and crisp, but somehow the game feels enclosed in a dreamlike, wispy haze that makes it an extremely surreal experience. This hazy ‘romantic’ aesthetic is compounded by the game’s environments, which are steampunk inspired and set in a world that resembles a parallel universe 19th century France. Gravity Rush looks amazing and the Vita’s pixel-packed screen is put to excellent use.
The game follows the story of a young girl named Kat who awakens in a mysterious city in the clouds with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Her only guide is an equally mysterious black cat, who seems to gift Kat with the ability to defy gravity and perform superhuman acts. These soon come in handy as it turns out that this floating city is under attack by shadowy creatures known as the Nevi. To make matters worse, the entire city is also being slowly torn to pieces by a giant black hole. Kat must explore the city, talk to its inhabitants, piece together her past, unlock the secret of her feline friend and destroy the Nevi. Naturally, she has to do all of this without wearing any pants too.
The controls in Gravity Rush work well, although it will take some time to get used to the initially disorienting gravity changes. Fans of M.C. Escher’s logic defying illustrations will probably love this game. Nearly all of the Vita’s control mechanics are utilised, with players swiping the screen to dodge, moving the entire console around to aim with the gyroscopic sensors, and both analogue sticks are used for movement and camera angles respectively. Pressing R turns off the world’s gravity, sending enemies, civilians, and objects that are light enough or not attached to the ground floating up into the air. Either by moving the Vita or using the analogue stick, you can aim where you would like to go. As Kat flies through the air, gracefully to land feet first, the world re-orientates to make that surface the ground. Whether it’s the side of a building or upside-down in a doorway.
Combat is generally up-close and personal, with Kat using kicks and melee attacks that are actioned by pressing the square button. However players can harness Kat’s power to their advantage and use special Gravity Kicks, where she’ll soar through the air to deliver two painful high-heels into the face of your target. The further you are from your target, the faster you’ll go and the more damage you’ll deal. However aiming and maintaining your direction takes some practice.
On top of kicking foes to death with your fancy boots, you’ll also encounter big bosses who require a combination of careful evasion, manipulating gravity, and attacking glowing orbs in order to weaken or defeat them. While the boss battles are bordering on repetitive, the creature design for each will keep you entertained. Gravity Rush also features a decent upgrade system that always keeps the combat fresh. You’ll be able to increase Kat’s strength, her attacks, and even her ability to alter gravity.
It’s been a while since the Vita launch now and, up until Gravity Rush, I was beginning to worry about the future of Sony’s once coveted handheld console. But this game breathes new life into the already (surprisingly) stale software line-up. While it might not be all that suited to the quick ‘pick-up and play’ format, Gravity Rush’s novel combination of platformer, beat ‘em-up, RPG, and puzzler make this a very worthy game for the Vita. There is even already DLC mission packs lined up before it releases here on the 28th of June, so keep an eye out for this if you’re growing tired of your Vita.