I remember playing the Gravity Rush trial about four months ago on a PS Vita demo unit, and I remember making up my mind about buying one right then and there. Among the stylish comic book cutscenes, the unique graphics and the completely cool gravity control mechanic, I was sold. Now that I’ve had ample time to get used to the controls and fall in love with the game’s charming qualities, I can state with confidence that SCE Japan Studio has crafted one of the best games of the year, portable or otherwise.
Any fan of anime and/or manga will feel right at home with the story and characters that inhabit the city of Hekseville. The protagonist, Kat, awakens in a strange floating city with no memory of who she is. This storytelling device is used constantly in films and novels, but video games lend themselves perfectly to it; the player and the onscreen character are both new to this strange world, and they can make sense of their surroundings together. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story, written by Naoko Sato (who penned the first Silent Hill). The cast of characters is pretty sparse but Kat has enough quirky charm to make up for it, and the twists and turns that the narrative takes are genuinely captivating. Kat often lets the player in on her thoughts about a situation before speaking, and her personality is very endearing. Don’t expect Bayonetta or Lollipop Chainsaw levels of sexuality in this game; Kat has a distinct and identity, and the story is all the better for it.
Gravity Rush’s visuals help in making the game a unique experience. The easiest way to describe the graphics would be to label them as “cel-shaded” and call it a day, but that would be selling the game short. They look like hand drawn anime art come to life and painted with muted, saturated colors. I’m reminded of the 2008 game Prince of Persia, which looked like a watercolor painting in motion. The comic book style cutscenes seamlessly transition into the game world and vice-versa, an excellent visual touch.
The game’s world is open, but a clever warp system involving discoverable manholes ensures that time is never wasted traversing large distances. There are four main areas of the city and each has a distinct visual style. One is a nighttime carnival with bright lights and another is an old fashioned European-style city. It’s fun to fly high above the city and then return gravity to normal, free-falling towards the ground as the city comes back into view. It looks like the game world is being painted into existence right before your eyes.
The music in the game wouldn’t be out of place in a Hiyao Miyazaki film. Each section of the city has its own theme; some are sweeping orchestral pieces while others are more unorthodox. Prolific Japanese composer Kohei Tanaka really accomplished something great with this score.
The main pull of the game lies in the totally unique gravity control mechanic that you’ll use basically nonstop throughout the lengthy campaign. Taking the idea of flight a step further, you actually shift the direction that gravity is pulling Kat in. Want to stand on the side of that building? Press the right trigger, aim at the building (using either the control stick or the more accurate, but infinitely more embarrassing, accelerometer) and it will become your new ground. In a clever artistic touch, Kat’s long hair always follows the natural pull of gravity, keeping you from getting hopelessly turned around. You’ll curse the control scheme at first while you’re smashing into walls, running out of energy and falling off of those walls. But once you upgrade Kat’s energy meter, falling speed and meter usage it becomes an incredible mechanic to use, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with precisely shifting gravity is huge.
Sure, the combat in Gravity Rush can be infuriating at times given that you’re rarely ever on the ground fighting, and trying to aim at certain parts of enemies while shifting gravity left and right can be trying. Fighting Nevi (that’s what the enemies are called, not to be confused with Navi, the navigation system) isn’t a huge part of the game, and it does get easier as you level up Kat’s special abilities. The game is at its strongest when you’re leisurely exploring the town, collecting gems, and generally getting wrapped up in its atmosphere. Finally PS Vita owners have a game that is truly exclusive, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that should not go unnoticed.