Another wonderful review from our guest writer J.Hill.
Many gamers know the feeling: I want to finish this game, but I also really want to try this one. Oh hey, this one is on sale, might as well try this while I’m at it. Friends are all playing a new title they won’t shut up about? Let’s see if it’s as good as they say. Before you know it, you have one, two, … okay probably more like a dozen titles you ‘meant’ to finish, but never did. Thus, you have now burdened yourself with the two words that will make many a gamer shudder: Back Log.
As part of my new year, new you, I resolved to work through the various titles in my library I never specifically meant to leave unfinished, but for one reason or another, did. First up: Gravity Rush.
Released in 2012 as a PS Vita exclusive, Gravity Rush did not become available to the broader console market until 2015 in Japan, 2016 for Western audiences. While I have never owned a handheld device, outside of a cellphone, I do remember the game appearing on my radar in 2012 when I played a store demo. I was so impressed, I nearly bought a PS Vita on the spot. Alas budget would not allow it. Years later, after treating myself to a PS4, Gravity Rush was the first game I bought.
Instantly I was smitten with the games main protagonist; Kat, and the charming, cel-shaded art style. However, my exploration was brief before moving on to a different title. It seemed only fitting then, in my quest to resolve past negligence, that I should start with my console’s first purchase. I’m sure Kat would respect the gravity of my decision.
After a brief anime style introduction, Rush starts you off in a back alleyway, where the game’s protagonist awakens with a lack of memory, and a star-speckled cat to keep her company.
Two things become quickly apparent as Kat explores her surroundings; she possesses an inexperienced naivete about her, and she has an innate moral compass that compels her to do good. In short, a hero that will make good use of the super part of her powers. For the game is at its heart a superheroine origin story, complete with comic book formatting between chapters and missions to unfold its narrative.
The game excels at introducing these powers from the start; once you leave the short tutorial alleyway, you are immediately thrust into impending danger as a gravity distortion threatens to tear apart the very town you have found yourself in. A bereft man implores you to use your gravity powers to save his son and house, being whipped about in the temporal chaos:
The game’s two core strengths come sharply into focus here; the freedom of movement the main mechanics give you, and just how fun the game is to play. In today’s story driven video game world, it can sometimes be overlooked how important pure, unfiltered fun can be. While I consider myself a Playstation fan because of the strength of its story rich titles, to come across a gem that, for lack of a better comparison, feels like a Nintendo title, is a welcomed breath of fresh air.
Hurtling effortlessly through the air from platform to platform, Kat strives to both understand her powers, while using them to perform the impossible task. It is established that her powers are gifted to her by the cat; a familiar she names Dusty, and the shadowy creature dissipates and reforms as it follows her on her perilous journey.
After a run in with a scary shadow creature called a Nevi (the game’s main enemies), Kat does manage to save the day. Sort of. Child cradled against her, she misjudges where she sets the house down, and the entire thing slides awkwardly into a bottomless abyss. There is a quick beat where she and the family stare at each other, and then the father lights into her about her carelessness. Kat is mortified. In a display of her innocent nature, she flees, tears in her eyes, bemoaning the fact she was only trying to help. She finds a mysterious door, and upon opening it, finds that her situation is even more dire than she initially understood.
Hekseville, where much of the game takes place, turns out to be a floating industrial city in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by a dense red fog that obscures both horizon and any possible land below, Kat finds herself trapped, isolated in a city that feels haunted by loneliness. To make matters worse, those same gravity distortions that nearly claimed a child in the opening act surround the city in disparate points. While normally quiet, they have been known on occasion to spew forth waves of Nevi that attack townfolk. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Kat is not the only known “Gravity Shifter”. There is another, with a less than stellar reputation, who’s previous deeds cause the townsfolk to cast natural suspicion on what exactly Kat is up to. Seems our heroine has her work cut out for her.
The crux of gameplay revolves around exploration, and the unusual ways your gravity powers allow you to explore what might otherwise be considered a small map. Hekseville can be discovered by walking up its walls, dangling upside down beneath the city, flying through the air to access chambers of its heart you would otherwise be unable to get to; and oh yeah, stopping to aid townspeople and sometimes fight Nevi along the way.
The more aid you give, the greater your reputation grows. Higher reputation expands how much you can level your gravity powers, while buying the powers themselves is done so by collecting a currency sprinkled all over the map in the form of purple power gems. Finding a cache of well hidden gems in an overlooked alcove on the map is one of the game’s many joys, though there are others as well.
In addition to progressing the story, and the exploration, the game also offers mini games in the guise of challenge missions. Points on the map that test how well you’ve mastered your various abilities. Some of these, such as the gravity slide that allows you to zip along the ground at breakneck speed (think Sonic the Hedgehog) are thrilling, if a bit easy. Others, such as being able to outlast waves of enemies coming your way, or testing your ability to manuever quickly mid-air, are fairly challenging, and dare I say… frustrating. However the rewards are well worth taking a few spins.
The other reward for exploration is finding the Travellers; a couple that seems to have been displaced from time. A couple that only Kat can see and hear. You find each of the pair separately, and learn their story in bits and pieces, as time cruelly removes them from your presence mid conversation. They are often in the remotest of areas, making you search high and low, but as travelling all over town in ways so unusual and unique is a large part of what makes the game so fun to begin with, I certainly didn’t mind. In fact they just might be my favorite little mystery of the game, though I haven’t found all of their spots yet.
Eventually the game leads you to the first “dungeon”; a place outside of town that forces you to use a myriad of your powers to navigate, teeming with a lot more enemies that the town has. Each one of these has a boss at the end, as well as a secret, much harder boss (which give a ton of gems). Upon completing the first dungeon you find yourself in a section of town that had previously disappeared. Just one more of the many mysteries surrounding Hekseville. You quickly reconnect it with Hekseville, reuniting people, and improving your reputation. These dungeons serve as the template for the story’s main progression beats. A bit of exploration, a couple side missions, then a dungeon to unlock the next part of town.
Graphically, the game isn’t your standard of beauty. The cel-shading looks fine, but it’s a very industrial aesthetic, without much in the way of sweeping vistas or picturesque landscapes. However, there is something beautiful about the haunting, lonely nature of the town, and I found the artwork very appropriate for the nature of the game. The ability to climb or fly to the town’s highest points do give a sense of satisfaction as you survey the town you’ve just completed several good deeds in. Kat very much seems to be making it her town to protect, in traditional superheroine fashion.
It is not a terribly long game, clocking in somewhere between 15-20 hours. Nor is it terribly difficult. The difficulty lies mostly from mastering your powers, though some of the harder bosses do test just how precise you are with those controls. The second secret dungeon boss in particular hit very hard, and you kind of had to buzz back and forth like a bee. One slip up meant you had to forego attacking that round, reset from a distance, and try again.
But getting better and better at your powers does feel extremely satisfying. It unlocks more and more combos you can do, more freedom of movement, the ability to feel like you are flying circles around your enemies. As your powers grow the pace of combat quickens appreciatively. Until you really do feel like you are flying. Like you are the hero Hekseville needs.
All in all Gravity Rush is a game that absolutely nails its core concept, and doesn’t delay you at any point from enjoying it. You are never bogged down in story dump, and yet the story is surprisingly engaging; surrounded in mystery and intrigue that left me wanting to play more. It keeps its sights squared solely on fun, with no excess baggage, and as such, is impossible not to recommend. I am beyond anxious to eventually sit down with the game’s sequel. You know, just as soon as I get through this Back Log.
-Amazing Gameplay, it never feels repetitive or exhausting
-Charming protagonist thrust into a mysterious world
-Light hearted humor
-Engaging story, stylistically told
-Somewhat unmemorable score
-Some fighting of the camera during action. It’s easy to get disoriented at time, to the point sometimes you don’t even know where you’re trying to point the camera
Another wonderful review from our guest writer – J.Hill.