What's a girl to do when she wakes up in a strange floating city with no memories but with the power to control gravity? Why, save the day, of course!
By SHAUN A. Noordin
As I was falling rapidly upwards into the flame-coloured sky, with the skyscrapers of a strange city zipping past and deadly shadow creatures pursuing me, my only thought was this: Wheeee!
I've been eyeing Gravity Rush ever since Sony previewed the white-haired heroine, Kat, flying and fighting across the floating city of Hekseville.
The early preview videos teased an action adventure where you could control the force of gravity to fly, run up walls, explore a mysterious yet modern city and battle monsters that are threatening Hekseville's citizens.
How could I say no to that? I was hooked the moment I saw Kat plummet horizontally across a plaza to deliver a high-velocity gravity kick to an extremely unfortunate enemy.
Of course, now that I actually had a chance to play SCE Japan's open-world game on the PS Vita, there's only one question that needs to be answered: Does Gravity Rush live up to my lofty expectations, or does it stumble on its promise of exciting gameplay?
Well, turns out that if the first thing you do is give players the ability to control gravity, then the only way you can go is up.
Kat in the city
In Gravity Rush, you're put into the gravity-defying shoes of Kat, a girl who wakes up with a bad case of Superheroic Amnesia. As any fictional medical practitioner can tell you, that's a condition where you wake up in a strange place with no memory of who you are, but with a slew of new ass-kicking super powers to make up for it.
In short order, Kat discovers a magical cat that's the source of her powers; learns that the city she's exploring is a sprawling, strangely modern city built floating atop a swirling black-red oblivion; uses her gravity-manipulating powers to save a boy from the "gravity storms" that are literally tearing the city to pieces; and battles the shadow-like Nevi monsters that suddenly appear to threaten the citizens of Hekseville.
That's a pretty big start to a girl's career as a hero.
As Kat takes on the varied story missions and progresses through the plot, she gradually restores sections of the city torn away by the gravity storms and earns the adoration of the citizens she's been rescuing.
Gravity Rush very much follows the conventions of an upbeat super hero story - with a touch of Japanese mahou shoujo (magical girl) manga sprinkled in - and this is most evident in its use of beautifully illustrated comic book-styled cutscenes.
On that note, Gravity Rush is what I'm going to call an "open-world super hero action adventure." Yes, after enjoying games like Infamous and Prototype, I'm quite happy to declare this to be a whole new subgenre.
The main draws of (the newly-christened) open-world super hero action adventures are the exploration and the action, and Gravity Rush delivers on both fronts while hanging upside down.
The gravity mechanic, the crown jewel of the game, is executed perfectly and allows you methods of traversing the city in ways that other open-world games would call cheating.
Tapping the R shoulder buttons causes Kat to float in place, and by tilting the Vita or using the right analogue stick, you get to aim where you want "down" to be.
Another tap of the button sends Kat "falling" (or performing a devastating gravity kick) in whichever direction you chose, until you land on (and stick to) a floor/wall/ceiling or run out of gravity power.
It sounds simple on paper, but it opens up whole new ways of exploring: You can fly rapidly across entire city blocks; check out the mysterious underside of a floating island; or nonchalantly walk straight up the side of a massive tower.
Thanks to Kat's gravity powers, there's practically no corner of the world that you can't check out, which is fantastic, because I thought Hekseville is as beautifully detailed as it is dizzyingly labyrinthine.
Heck, the whole game is gorgeous - Gravity Rush's palette of dark washes punctuated by strong colours reminded me of manga artist Abe Yoshitoshi's artwork, and Hekseville's alien architecture makes it a unique place to visit.
However, if you want to have a reason to explore more tangible than simple tourism, then I'll have you know that there are gems hidden everywhere throughout the city. You know the drill: Collect all the shiny things and use them to power up your abilities, RPG style.
Now, for the action bits: You'd probably get bored if the only thing you did was fly around and walk on walls, so that's why the story missions provide a lot of variety and challenges in how you use your powers.
It's as if SCE Japan already guessed you'd have already gotten used to gravity shifting during the side missions and your explorations, so the story missions was a perfect time to go a little crazy.
In no particular order, there's a mission where Kat has to fly her schoolgirl crush around town; use her awesome gravity powers to... dig through trash (to find a bomb); and traverse an entire sub-dimension where everything, apropos of nothing, is on fire.
Yeah, good luck launching yourself through the sky when the sky is made of lava.
The gravity mechanics are very fun to use... but that doesn't mean they're easy to master.
Kat's preferred form of attack is the aforementioned gravity kick, which launches her at high speeds through the sky towards her enemy.
Fortunately or unfortunately, this often means that you'll be doing aerial acrobatics.
In one particularly hectic fight, I was flying straight towards a floating Nevi, which dodged, forcing me to quickly turn around to re-target my enemy while evading bullets from its friends, avoiding collisions with skyscrapers, and keeping an eye on my gravity power meter.
All in the span of five seconds while trying to remember where the ground was as the sky spun around me.
There's enough high-speed physics-breaking action in a single round of combat to make even Neo from The Matrix go "whoa," and I haven't even talked about Kat's other powers, such as her ability to "slide" across the ground/up walls at breakneck speeds.
It takes a special kind of mind to get a bearing on the perpetually topsy-turvy world of Gravity Rush as it whooshes by at the speed of sound, and that mind is one that's on anti-nausea medicine.
However, like the ever-optimistic Kat, I just can't bring myself to give up. Gravity Rush has a generous amount of checkpoints, so even if (OK, when) I comically launch myself into the stratosphere by accident during a particularly excruciating boss fight, the game lets me retry with little fuss.
Plus, the charming storyline and slowly-unravelling mystery of Hekseville always gave me a reason to push forward.
That said though, the challenge missions - the "side quests" scattered throughout the city - are a different story.
I suspect they're reverse Turing Tests: If you somehow have the skill to precisely guide Kat through the oft-upside down city-spanning gravity races, or take down hordes of Nevi in extremely fast-paced time attacks, and score anything better than a bronze model, then you might be a robot.
If you own a Vita and want to feel like a superhero - or just want to feel the freedom of flying around while sticking a tongue out in the face of physics - then by golly, do not miss out on playing Gravity Rush.
The game may have its flaws, and its rather dizzying action scenes may put some people off, but there are so many more reasons why I think Gravity Rush is one of the best games available right now.
There's the gorgeous artwork of the game as a whole; the story that feels like it's straight out of a super hero comic/mahou shoujo manga; and the varied story missions which always keeps gameplay interesting.
But honestly though, the main reason I like Gravity Rush so much is that I was just having way, way too much fun manipulating a fundamental force of nature to wantonly fly around and kick monsters about.
What can I say? I find gravity strangely attractive.
Pros: Unique gravity mechanic opens whole new worlds of exploration; gorgeous world and charming story; gameplay remains consistently interesting throughout story missions.
Cons: High speed aerial combat may not be for everyone; stockpiling anti-nausea medicine a must for some; challenge missions were designed by Japanese to root out rogue androids hiding in their society.
(Sony Computer Entertainment/SCE Japan Studio)
Action adventure game for PS Vita
Review unit courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment Hong Kong, asia.playstation.com.