Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Sony Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
I'm riding around the industrial district of floating city with remarkable verticality, having just plucked three police officers from high urban precipes and rescued them from the machinations of a cackling madman in a pinstriped suit who reminds me an awful lot of Batman's nemesis - the Scarecrow. I've gotten to this point, after 17-odd hours, having leapt from the underside of a bridge and catapulted myself skywards, karate-kicked a bunch of glowing purple enemies out of the clouds, rescued a child by levitating him with powers given to me by a sparkly cat, and won a pavement-surfing race that would make Sonic cry.
Please allow me to introduce you to the first killer app for the Playstation Vita: Welcome to Gravity Rush.
Gravity Rush has a story that sees you step into the shoes of the amnesiac Kat - a blonde-haired, red-eyed, charming protagonist. She wakes up, stumbles around in confused fashion for a little bit, gets imbued with gravitational powers by a cat that then insists upon following her everywhere, and sets up home in the sewers of the strange city in which she finds herself.
It's an opening hour that does little to explain what, where, why, or who, with the player kept in the dark as much as Kat is for those opening chapters. This is a third-person game, but make no mistake, we see everything through Kat's eyes. The benefit to this is that, imbued with strange new powers, we can set about having fun with them immediately.
The controls are simple to grasp, but take some serious mastery. A tap of R1 will cause Kat to levitate, with a translucent blue target ring appearing in the middle of the screen. From there, it's a simple matter of pointing her in the right direction, and tapping R1 again to glide over. Another tap of the button and she'll stop in mid-air, with L1 setting her back upon solid ground, the right way up.
You see this is a mechanic that not only allows Kat to zip about the skies, but it also means that every wall and every ceiling can be turned into the floor, and the game encourages you to explore the city of Hekseville and its surrounding districts through a mixture of striking aesthetics and tantalisingly reachable power-up crystals.
Gravity Rush joins the likes of Assassin's Creed, Just Cause (and its sequel), and, perhaps greatest of all, Jet Set Radio. These are all games that not only set you down in open, interesting environments, but then also give you delightful ways of getting about and around those environments too. In this respect, Gravity Rush may not quite be as simple and accessible as Assassin's Creed or Jet Set Radio, but the satisfaction one gets from finally being able to zip about the city with ease is glorious indeed.
That's not to say Gravity Rush is difficult to pick up, far from it. The game does a good job of helping you out even when the world's been flipped up and over so many times that you don't know which way is down. Little details like the way Kat's hair hangs, or bright interface markers that point you towards your next objective or nearby foes all help make sure that your adventures around town are pleasant. Instructions are given in simple terms, with clear button inputs. But this isn't a game that will funnel you down channels every step of the way, this is a game that encourages you to really play, to enjoy the world around you, and drink Hekseville in along with all that is has to offer.
The cel-shaded art is reminiscent of XIII in some ways, particularly when it comes to the comic-book panel cutscenes, with the entertainment district Pleajeune reminding me strongly of a stylised take on absinthe-soaked Paris. But this art style is juxtaposed with clear Japanese influences, not least when it comes to Kat herself. There are other flavours afoot here, too, though. Auldnoir - the district where you begin - brings up hints of Conan Doyle's London, with grimy back streets, and labyrinthine alleyways above and below, particularly as Kat sneaks about the place, helping the police out in their investigations. Endestria, the industrial part of town, is a steampunk hive of activity, with factory chimneys providing a glorious view of the city below. These additional districts are only accessible after you've entered parallel dimensions through a man's tummy (yes, it's utterly barmy), and navigated your way through ethereal plains that encourage you to slide, glide, plummet, and soar.
Of course, there are a few things standing in Kat's way, most notably the mysterious black and purple monsters that have started terrorising the people of Hekseville, known only as the "Nevi", her pinstriped, cackling adversary, and another woman able to flip Newton's laws on their heads. For the most part, you'll be rescuing citizens for the marauding Nevi, who look much what you'd expect to find on a goth's handkerchief after they've sneezed. This pulsating, languid monsters nearly all have weak spots susceptible to violence, denoted by a glowing magenta orb. Although one or two may be accessible, more often than not Kat will need to take to the skies, particularly when it comes to taking down the impressive bosses in the game.
Aerial attacks, and indeed Kat's positioning in general, can be lined up using the right analogue stick, or by tilting and twisting the Vita itself, much like the 3DS. Of course, using a mixture of the two often works wonders, with a tap of Square sending Kat swiftly towards her target with a kick. Combat can be a little clunky at times, but it can also be incredibly exhilarating, and there are a few special moves you'll unlock about a third of the way through the game that make things significantly easier.
Kat's gravitational powers are limited, though, and that becomes something of a shame in the early part of the game, with soaring over all too quickly as your gauge runs out. In the heat of battle, it can put a crimp in your airborne killstreak too. Thankfully, the aforementioned purple crystals that adorn the parapets, turret, balconies, tunnels, bridges, and rooftops of Hekseville are plentiful, and can be spent on a wide range of upgrades from stemming the rate at which your gravitational powers expire, to enhancing and upgrading your basic attacks.
If you're interested in things further afield than the Hekseville tourist board, and saving the world, there are also a plethora of challenges to be undertaken. From defeating constantly spawning Nevi within a set time, to rescuing citizens by levitating them and flying them out of danger, to surfing down the streets of the entertainment district (conducted by pressing the touchscreen in its bottom corners and using the gyroscope to steer) and racing the clock. Beat any of the three goals and you'll be rewarded with further upgrade crystals for you to spend as you wish.
There are moments where Gravity Rush fails to live up to its potential. Things can occasionally get a little repetitive, and it might feel sometimes as if the designers are not entirely sure what to do with the fantastic mechanics they've created. Worse, though, is when they take them away. In the second half of the game, on one of your district-saving missions in another dimension, Dusty the cat becomes ill and your powers become incredibly limited for a time, cuing up some rather frustrating platforming sections at odds with the rest of the game.
But for the most part Gravity Rush is a game that just gets better and better the more you play of it. It's easy to fall in love with Hekseville, and special mention must be given to Kohei Tanaka's fantastic score (particularly the jaunty jazz numbers in Pleajeune); it's easy to fall in love with the gravity mechanics, the freedom of flight, and how that freedom extends the more you level; and it's easy to love Kat herself - bright, bubbly, capable, and fantastically good-hearted, her journey is a truly charming one.
Originally I only wanted a Vita so I could play PS3-esque games on the move. But Sony's Japan Studio have made me realise that there's more to be had from the little machine. It's stunningly beautiful, with a purity of purpose and spirit only seen in the likes of Fez and Journey this year and, much like the latter, you'll come away from Gravity Rush beaming. You can buy an Uncharted experience and a LBP experience and a Rayman experience and a Resistance experience elsewhere. Those titles, grand though they are, all owe more to their home console siblings than to the Vita. But this is a true killer app for the system - a game of such unique charm that it can't be found anywhere else. And, having played it on the train, on the loo, on the sofa, in a field, on a bus, in a cafe, in bed, and in the park, I wouldn't want it any other way.
- Fantastic gravitational powers
- Beautiful art and sound direction
- Exploring Hekseville is an utter joy
- Powers can be disorienting
- It sucks when they're taken away
- Some might find it occasionally repetitive
The Short Version: By setting you down in a strikingly rendered game world and giving you an incredibly unique way to explore it, Gravity Rush joins the select handful of games that will occupy you for hours on the basis of mechanics alone. Toyama's decision to move away from survival horror has resulted in a game of dazzling beauty in both fuction and form. Gravity Rush just became the best reason to buy a Playstation Vita.