The Playstation Vita is a powerful piece of kit with a slew of new tools and features for which you'd think would demand the most talent and time to reach its full its potential. And yet, we see a quantum leap in just mere months from its release.
Gravity Rush, or Gravity Daze in native Japan, is the Vita's first original action adventure game, and what a fantastic way to be introduced to this wonderful new handheld device.
From the creators of the Silent Hill and Forbidden Siren of all things, Gravity Rush pits the amnesiac Kat in the supposedly normal floating city of Hekseville. She's quickly greeted by a mysterious black cat that grants her the ability to control surrounding gravity, allowing her to stand on the side of buildings, on ceilings, etc, with the ubiquitous feline friend following her every move.
Soon after, the town's invaded by the dark and ghastly Nevi along with the sinister genius master Alias, whilst another girl with similar powers to Kat also roams the city - could there be a connection between these and Kat's memory loss?
If you're looking for a game that puts the Vita's unique features to good use, this is it!
Unlike other titles which feel to have shoehorned them in any shape or form, making for some rather distracting gameplay elements, Rush's concept genuinely feels as if built around the device's features.
The draw, of course, is the control of gravity. By simply pressing the R button, Kat can be lifted and shot into any direction, or hover in mid air. The motion sensor can then be used for directing Kat's flying abilities and camera movement. Or, if this feels uncomfortable, you can use the right analog stick instead.
For combat, along with the usual punches and kicks, the touch screen can be swiped to dodge enemy attacks, pressing circle lets you pick up and hurl items at enemies (or drag them to other locations), holding sides of the touch screen let you slide, whilst hovering in mid-air can be turned into deadly aerial strikes. All of these ideas are introduced quickly in the opening chapters, with little in a way of a learning curve.
There are problems with this new concept of course. Kat floats in all sorts of positions when defying gravity, causing for some disorientating camera angles, and having you struggle to recount enemies and hotspots from time to time. Learning to manoeuvre Kat quickly from A to B will take a little time to master.
Her aerial attacks and gravity throws aren't as easy to pick up or as fluid you'd hope. Whilst there's indeed an auto-targeting system, it's a tad too loose meaning, if you don't take a few more moments than desired to line up your shots, you could be missing the Nevi's weak spots and hurling into other objects instead.
Also, though a lot of thought has been put into Kat's controls and actions, the same can't always be said for the Nevi. Enemy variety and attack patterns soon jump over the line of repetitive and it's a shame things aren't shaken up all that often.
Visually, the Victorian London inspired Hekseville is mesmerizing. Locations are huge, and upon close inspection, the level of detail on buildings, objects and people is stunning. And though objects decrease in detail from afar, it works stylistically and prevents confusion when zipping around the sky. Later locations all have their distinct features and colours, some of which are memorable beyond doubt, and more than welcome a second playthrough.
You would think Rush would be confusing for it's rather large locations, however, a map and navigator lets you highlight hotspots to missions and characters, making it always easily accessible to get to where you want.
Cell-shaded characters and lowly saturated colours are heavily reminiscent of old European comic books the developers were greatly inspired by, giving the world a poignantly dreamlike feel, greatly differentiating it from the brooding first person shooters and colourful Japanese RPGs it's surrounded by. Though I must admit this may have become a tad tiresome had the game been longer than it is.
Along with the cinematic cut scenes, light hearted 3D-esque comic strips, and a stunning live orchestral score, makes Gravity Rush feel as if you're playing a most whimsical modern fairytale straight out of a Studio Ghibli film.
My only possible critique of course is that, while Sony aimed for a neutral character style to appeal to both Western an Eastern tastes, it does lean more on the anime side, particularly that of Sega's Jet Set Radio; so if you're not into either anime or borderline cutesy visuals, this game may feel a little out of your comfort zone.
The magical story itself may not be the most original at first, but it quickly draws layer upon layer of interesting ideas, all pulled off ever so charmingly. Between the typical plot of good vs evil is Kat's search to find her place in this alien city, dealing with everyday struggles of finding work, a place to live, making friends, etc. It's these story elements that add spices of adventure RPG elements that give Gravity Rush that little more variety and depth, in the form of optional side quests that see her fetching furniture, helping citizens around town, etc.
Besides progressing the story, fleshing out side characters, and breathing more life into Hekseville, most importantly they give you those much-needed gems used to upgrade Kat's special abilities. Many of these challenges also greatly help you nail the controls, and never felt forced. I happily did them multiple times.
Kat herself is a charm to play as watch develop; her inquisitive, ditzy character and encounters with unsuspecting citizens being funny, gripping and, on occasions, quite touching. The main villains, although not likely to go down in gaming history as the most memorable, carried enough mystery about them to give enough excitement to see what will happen next.
In fact, the only real downside of this game, but possibly a major one, is that it's all over a little too soon. Clocking at around 10-15 hours to complete (with an ending that more than insinuates this isn't the last of Kat's adventures), unless you're willing to take for another spin, this game will not keep you busy for long. Furthermore, there's no option to replay your favourite chapters. You'll be replaying the story from scratch.
So, if you're asking yourself `is this the game worth buying the Vita for?' and are looking for a title that shows off the Vita's powerful graphical capabilities and unique extra features, this is a resounding `Yes!' But you may wish to pick up a 2nd title. Gravity Rush honestly wouldn't have worked half as well on any other system, and despite being an early release, doesn't feel rushed in any shape or form other than its title.
If Sony continues to invest into more original, innovative and polished titles like this, we can be looking forward to some truly outstanding Vita titles in future.
Bottom line is, this is one of those rare titles that reaffirms that the gaming industry is far from devoid of talent and good ideas. When given the chance, there are still titles worthy of buying new consoles for, even at launch. And despite some initial time taken to tackle the newly coined controls, this is one of them.
If you've had enough of the usual racers, fighters and shooters, or you appreciate creative adventure titles of among the lines of Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus, Jet Set Radio, and Ico, this is a title you do NOT want to miss.