Why Gravity Rush is the Vita’s first big surprise

Even for someone that’s been looking forward to it for a while, Gravity Rush seemingly comes out of nowhere. It would be easy to mistake this for a straight-forward action title with an engaging twist, but spending a few minutes with the game reveals it to be much more than that. There’s a sprawling open world to explore with a navigation system that evokes an uplifting (pun intended) sense of freedom, a unique protagonist that drives an intriguing plot, and a visual and audio flair that reminds you of the charm that eastern developers can deliver when on their A-game.

It’s not just the physics-defying mechanics that make you feel like you’re walking on air whilst playing SCEJ’s latest; it’s almost everything else too.

Gravity Rush tells the story of Kat, an amnesiac with the power to shift the gravity around her, allowing her to walk on walls, float through the air and hurl heavy objects at enemies. This is an origin tale in the same vein of a 60’s Marvel comic. Kat struggles to find her purpose and fit in amongst the citizens of Hekseville – the game’s floating city setting – much like Spider-man or the X-men did when first starting out in New York. Given that much of the game’s events are also told through comic strips, it’s not hard to see the inspirations that make up a light-hearted and enjoyable yarn.

Kat is the star of the show – an isolated yet friendly heroine that’s ability to smile and just in general be a delightful person makes her a strong protagonist to spend time with. Interacting with citizens and retreating back to her oddly-comfy home in the sewers forms a strong and all too rare bond between her and the player.

The gravity powers offer a unique take on the superhero genre, putting Kat somewhere in between Batman’s glide n’ dive from Arkham City and the flying in any terrible Superman game. Navigation here is a refreshing experience, allowing you to dart from wall to wall with ease. Aiming where to land can be done through that all-important right analogue stick or using the Vita’s tilt sensors, which comes in handy for fine-tuning, much like in Golden Abyss.

There are, of course, evil forces at work trying to rip the world apart. Said forces are the Nevi, a bunch of faceless monsters that stroll about the game world as they might in a Mario title, waiting for Kat to come and kick them in the orb (read: weak spot).

The weak link is the combat, which is rooted to the square and triangle buttons both when grounded and in the air. It’s not a broken system in the least bit, rather a repetitive one. So many of the Vita’s control options have been devoted to the game’s hook that the action feels like it’s done the best with what was left. Enemy encounters usually end up as monotonous moments in an otherwise stellar experience as you hammer the square button. Bringing the gravity mechanic into it for flying kicks is a novel idea, but asks for precision aiming that’s just a little too demanding in tight spots.

Fortunately the game never strays too far from its fundamentals, peppering each action scene with mind-bending platforming and chase sequences that are a genuine thrill to play. Missions are on the short side, asking the player to get invested in the world in-between. This involves having conversations with the regulars, restoring broken bridges and other areas, and completing time-based side missions. These include the likes of races and escort missions that set the bar high enough to make sure you’re revisiting them throughout the adventure which upgraded powers to improve on scores and get more upgrade points.

What makes Gravity Rush worth the investment aren’t these distractions but the fact that SCEJ has made it such a joy to simply just exist in the world. Gliding through the air while the whimsical score sways along with you makes this the perfect destination to relax and just get lost in the world, exploring nooks and crannies, finding the limits of the gravity powers, going as high as possible and trying to catch Kat just before she hits the ground.

The cell-shaded art style falls a little short of what we’ve already seen the system do in its more impressive launch offerings, and it’s color palette could be a little less on the dark side of things, but this is still a title that’s easy on the eyes. The gorgeous hand-drawn art for cutscenes really brings the characters to life too.

Gravity Rush is the Vita’s first surprise; a deceptively deep action game that sets itself apart with its upbeat take on story and refreshing game mechanics. It should be commended for producing one of gaming’s better protagonists in the last few years. I’d stop just short of calling it a must-have, though the foundations are certainly there for any sequel to be just that.