Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush is probably one of the coolest PS Vita games released yet. It’s innovative, cool, fun, but sadly it ends up being pretty dull in the end.

For those not in the know, Gravity Rush is a game about a young girl clad in unusual yet… generous? flattering? nearly slutty? clothing (like any good game straight out of Japan) who is granted mysterious powers. A mysterious… thing, that can turn into a cat (which is named Dusty, to the chagrin of the Cat-thing) grants her the power to alter the gravity around her. She can thus enter zero-g and float, or shift her own personal gravity allowing her to walk along buildings and the like. The city she’s in, a place called Hekseville which is a mysterious mix of medieval and Steampunk, is a city in the sky which is often under the threat of Gravity Storms. They’ve become worse due to another shifter named Raven (she has a raven instead of a cat) and the introduction of bizarre baddies named Nevi. Kat (the protagonist) begins trying to set things right… and you’re off.

The game’s narrative is told through a variety of cutscenes and comic-book panels. The cutscenes are nothing special, but the comic book scenes are pretty cool: they’re laid out like panels. Pressing X or swiping the screen causes either more dialogue to pop-up or causes the camera to turn to the next panel. The characters and scene in the panel are all 2D but reside on a 3D plane; tilting the Vita causes the camera angle to shift which in turn makes this far more obvious. It’s a really cool feature that allows you to get a glimpse of the world inside the comic that you might not normally see. And, if you end up missing some dialogue because you’re trigger-happy, you can often get a glimpse of what you’ve missed (or what’s yet to come). It’s an innovative and cool twist on what is already a very cool narrative feature.

Most of the game’s dialogue remains in Japanese, however, but there are only occasional speaking scenes — none of which (that I can recall) occurring during the comic book panels. It isn’t distracting, and I wouldn’t say it takes away from the game whatsoever, if only because the majority of the game’s dialogue is written (so if anything having it dubbed would be more distracting). In fact, I found something very appealing about retaining the original language; there’s something… innocent? about Kat’s voice that reinforces the fact that this is just some girl who woke up with superpowers. As much as she becomes a certified badass, she begins as, well, just a confused little girl. Through using the comic-book narrative, retaining the written narrative throughout, and by using cell-shaded graphics in the core game, the game manages to retain a comic-book feel throughout, without being too glaringly obvious about it.

There is one comic scene which I felt to be kind of out-of-place, which occurs when this (girl? young woman? teenager? who knows) exposes herself to another character (accidentally and off-screen, of course), which felt like unnecessary pandering to the fanboy crowd and borderline pedophilic. But that’s a minor aside at best, I think.

The main strength (and weakness!) of the game is your ability to alter gravity. Pressing a button allows you to affect gravity around you and entering a zero-G state. There you can do certain combat moves such as “falling” across town and kick a baddie in the face. It’s pretty cool, really. You can also enter a Gravity Slide, which allows you to speed around, shifting gravity so that whatever is beneath you is your centre — allowing you to shift around halfpipes and go completely upside-down, all the while sliding. You have a gravity gauge that depletes over time (and recharges after nonuse for a time)  so you can’t really overuse the power without some risk. It’s neat. It can get disorienting at times, however. I’ve made mistake of (frequently) assuming that gravity is always below you, so that I get feeling that I can walk around a building (when I’m walking on the facade). Instead, and I think this is more complex and way the hell cooler, walking off of a building’s facade causes you to plummet across town. You can fall in whatever direction you want, which is what’s so cool. You can set a navigation point from your map and launch yourself into the sky then direct yourself to where you want to go — transportation becomes really easy and, after some time, intuitive. The basics, at least, become very intuitive: there are missions and so on that take place in other planes where altering gravity becomes pretty difficult. In fact, there’s one area where the amount of time you can shift is seriously dropped, meaning plummeting to your death (because you’re on a city in the sky!) becomes a very real possibility. There’s another where you lose your gravity shifting altogether (!) at which point you realise how reliant you’ve become on it.

You gain power-up points by collecting crystals and completing side-missions: using these points you can upgrade your various attacks and abilities, such as lengthening your gravity gauge or increasing your recovery time. It isn’t hard to become very tough in very little time, which is kind of a downer for me, personally, and here’s why:

The game’s combat is pretty lacking. It’s cool for the first bit, once you learn to gravity kick. You essentially enter zero-G and fly across town, foot first, into some monster. It’s wicked. But it becomes really old, really fast. All nevi have weakpoints, marked by a big glowing “core”. Attacking these things causes them to die. They get tricks but for the most part all you need to do is float out of melee range and dodge projectiles (by swiping the screen or just constantly attacking). It’s really easy but worst of all it’s really bland. You can throw objects with your gravity powers, which is cool, but once you figure that out it gets pretty dull, too, because the nevi for the most part stand there and wait to get hit. You gain some super attacks which you can only activate every so often that allow you to absolutely decimate your enemies: you get a melee one, a ranged one, and essentially an area of effect one. You just pick the one you need and you’re laughin’. I hit a major antagonist with one of these and the attack pretty much ended the fight.

The side-missions are all pretty dull and are really just time-trials: there’s one for racing around the city, one for sliding, one for shifting, one for gathering energy crystals (that recharge your gauge) and then shifting, and one for killing enemies… it really just goes on. They’re all good challenges in their own right, but they’re all pretty much the same and all pretty boring. They’re all unlocked the same way, by the way: you automatically get a navigation point on your map. You check it out and it’s some feature in the town — an elevator, a TV screen, lights, a factory, whatever — that has been knocked out by Gravity Storms. You throw some crystals into a bucket, the bucket starts pumping, and you fix the thing. Zzz. There are a few dialogue options throughout town (all marked on your map) which advance the story a bit, but the dialogue always seems so stilted. You’re just chatting with some stranger about a mayor or a gravity field or something, and that’s it: nothing comes of it unless it’s tied into the main plot. That, aside from the main missions, is your only interaction with people, which sadly makes the game feel very unpopulated. It’s just you, shifting around (you can effect a gravity field around you and launch civilians across town… presumably to their death, but you never find out…).

The game’s story, despite the elegance with which it is presented, is also seriously lacking. There’s some vague plot going on but sadly the game leaves it hanging in the end with practically a million questions. The only question the game really answers is “is there going to be a sequel or tons of (overpriced) DLC?” and the answer is a very strong “GOD YES!”. It’s like the end of Halo 2 where Johnson asks Chief what he’s doing on that ship and Master Chief says “Securing a sequel Finishing this fight, sir!” It’s lazy storytelling, I think. Any good entry in a trilogy (or duology, or quintet, or whatever) should be on it’s own a complete narrative arc with an overarching… arc throughout the sequels. While I’m sure Gravity Rush 6 will put to rest some questions from the first five games, Gravity Rush itself feels incomplete. It’s a real disappointment for a game with such a very cool control dynamic.

In conclusion? Gravity Rush is cool, innovative, fun, and any other buzzwords critics and/or snobs like to toss out. Sadly, in the end, it’s a pretty boring game. It might be worth $10-$20 — might be — just because of the gravity dynamic, but at $40 it’s a tad overpriced. Buy it if your Vita is getting lonely, but it might be a good idea to wait on this one — which is a real shame, because this game had the potential to be one of the greatest handheld games ever made, no joke.

I know, it’s been over two weeks since my last post. I got put on a graveyard shift which totally messes with my schedule, then had a wedding to attend… don’t worry, I’ve got tons of excuses. Posts should resume at their regular pace within the next few weeks.

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