There is something utterly beautiful about falling. There are few sensations that amount to the rush of letting go and letting perhaps the most profound force of physics take control. Gravity, the eternal bound by which we live our entire lives, goes unchanged without compromise. It is this fact, perhaps, that drives humanity to crave control over it. We’ve mastered the science of lift and speed to defy gravity with flight, and skydivers tease gravity’s fatal strength by understanding properties of air. It should be no surprise, then, that a game revolving around the control of gravity be a bombastically satisfying experience.
Gravity Rush, or Gravity Daze in Japan, is such. The enthralling central mechanic is unlike anything I’ve experienced in games, let alone handheld games. Yes, flying as a core mechanic is not rare, but player manipulated falling is. It’s fortunate, then, that Gravity Rush also happens to place this distinctive act in a beautiful and compelling context. Naturally no game is perfect, and Gravity Rush is arguably far from it, but its combination of strong characters, interesting setting, and excellent balance between fun and challenge—on top of the aforementioned joy of controlled falling—makes for what is ostensively a must have for PS Vita owners thirsty in the current drought inflicting the young console.
Before rushing into more praise, it would be unfair to both you and the game to not highlight the game’s flaws, of which some are unfortunately substantial. Enemies and battling are fairly repetitive and often unrewarding, the controls seem to be yearning for greater flexibility than the small buttons and short analog sticks allow, and the graphics, while impressive in their artistic pursuits of painting a vivid setting, do not adequately represent the handheld’s proven power. On top of all this, the game’s greatest strengths, its falling and controlling thereof, are not always used in intelligent ways.
Were this game developed by, say, Nintendo (which I would argue is the king of polished and intelligent uses of mechanical gameplay gimmicks), challenges involving gravity would be far more intuitive and interesting. Instead, gravity shifting is too often just a means to get from one place to another. While the city of Hekseville, the games interestingly Ghibli-esque steampunk setting is detailed and varied, the player will undoubtedly fly past most of it in the quick flights from mission point to mission point. Consider how different an experience Grand Theft Auto would be if the protagonist were given a permanent jetpack at the very beginning. Yes, it would be a absolute joy to fly about, but the city would ultimately become a backdrop, something that is flown over and not interacted with.
Another gameplay mechanic the game employs is gravity sliding, a means of travel that basically involves quickly sliding while jerking the whole system to turn. It’s entirely unintuitive and entirely unnecessary beyond the sliding race side challenges seemingly tacked on to give an excuse to use the feature (for it, too, is made so pointless when you can just fly).
In general, gravity sliding is emblematic of the central problem with the game. The creators clearly couldn’t come up with enough intelligent uses of gravity shifting that they were forced to invent irrelevant mechanics to add to the variety and challenge. In battle, for example, you can either do a basic (and, when done correctly, satisfying) falling kick or use the painfully unintuitive object pick-up button to hurl random loose objects. Yes, these mechanics technically work and can be employed, I would have rather the effort to program and implement them been delegated to further deepening the central falling mechanic in more interesting and intuitive ways.
It’s at this point where this review most likely appears incredibly two-faced. I seem to have unloaded unprecedented praise only to attack with harsh criticism mere sentences later. Make no mistake, my overall experience with Gravity Rush was, and is, overwhelmingly positive. So much so, that in light of these flaws it’s actually been quite difficult to pinpoint exactly why. What makes this game the much needed diamond in the Playstation Vita’s much apparent rough? Why do I keep coming back to it?
Because there is simply nothing else quite like it. It’s marriage between impeccable presentation and ultimately satisfying gameplay (despite any flaws, mentioned or not) is so apparent with every minute of play that it leaves a sweet and lofty aftertaste. Kat, the protagonist, is impossible to dislike, with her cheerful attitude that never crosses the line of naïve and annoying. The music demands appreciation with its incredibly catchy jazz, electronic, and occasional motown tones. The story is compelling but simple enough to not seem needlessly weighted. There is even a surprising amount of extra challenges and story tidbits to keep the player from simply rushing through the average length main story missions. Even the visuals, which I mentioned do not stretch the power of the Vita, manage to be lovingly crafted in a pervasive and attractive style.
Yet the most enduring joy found in this game comes from what I discussed at the beginning, the pure fun of falling without consequence. It’s a sensation that never ceases to be anything short of exhilarating.
Ultimately, Gravity Rush’s problems are eclipsed by its many blazing strengths. If you have trouble finding an excuse to touch your shiny new Vita, consider this to be a the sign of good things to come. The Vita still has yet to find its killer app, but this is an example of how the console can be strong, and how it can indeed give the player something impressive and new on a console plagued by an endemic lack of risk taking and innovation.
Tarabisu would like to clarify that he not the onsite Vita guy. He has other interests, some of which are even SFW and sane enough to be published.
Developer: SCE Japan Studio (Project Siren)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Notable people involved: Keiichiro Toyama (director, known for creating Silent Hill)
Available on: PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action RPG
Release date: June 12th, 2012