Every now and then a game comes along that combines something new with something that you forgot you used to love. In this case, the thing I loved was Spyro. That dopey little purple dragon and his badly animated fire breath kept me entertained for hours and hours when I was smaller and less hairy than I am now. Besides the joys of setting enemies on fire, headbutting people off the side of platforms, and gliding, there was a much more primal urge Spyro was able to satisfy: collecting. Those purple gems (which seem to be all over PlayStation franchises, Crash Bandicoot for instance) were like crack. Dopamine threatened to engulf my system every time the sound effect played after absorbing one. The satisfaction of seeing an area cleared of them was pure bliss … but looking back, I think the best part of collecting gems was the exploring the various environments.
Gravity Rush has gems everywhere, and because you get to explore the world from every angle (literally every angle, like upside down and whatnot), finding gems and exploring are inextricably linked. I recently did an article on Max Payne 3 where I complained that, besides the shooting component of the game, there was nothing else to do; particularly disappointing because the environments were so beautiful. Gravity Rush almost suffers from the opposite effect, whereby environments aren’t all that visibly interesting, but have so many places to go. This is more than balanced out by the fact that going above and below (see what we did there) the missions requirements will net you a reward in the shape of a gem and the tinkling sound of success.
The Gravity Rush-er in question is Kat, a girl who awakens in a weird city with no memory of who she is. After befriending a cat and naming it ‘Dusty’ (like a weirdo), Kat discovers she has the power to control her own gravity, or what I like to call ‘the power to fall in any direction she feels like.’ Falling is the main mode of transport, and to the credit of Studio Japan, they’ve made it feel like Kat is actually falling as opposed to flying in an ungainly fashion. It’s annoying that you cant really land or traverse gracefully (in a nice juxtaposition to the amount of cat references in the game), but as flying in games tends to make everything else seem redundant, having to adjust where and how you fall gives a deeper sense of involvement.
Kat finds out that she’s a Shifter, a term initially used as an insult. But as you carry out missions to save the townsfolk from ‘Nevi’ (weird, pulsating black and red creatures that have giant glowing orbs on them that represent ‘weak points’), Shifter becomes synonymous with hero Reputation and missions play a big part in the game. To unlock side missions, you must first pay a certain amount of gems, which will then (usually) increase Kat’s rep. You can then do these side missions, which take place in the form of trials, like races, transporting items or people and fighting challenges. Completing these missions and achieving certain scores will grant you a either the bronze, the bronze and silver, or bronze, silver and gold amount of gems.
These gems can be used to unlock further side missions or be used to power up Kat’s abilities, and you’ll really need to do this. Besides giving Kat the speed and power necessary to progress, it will make the worst part of the game, the combat, end far more quickly and save you a massive amount of headache. The first mistake Gravity Rush makes is the addition of a soft auto-lock, which cannot be changed to an actual auto-lock, or even a more accurate soft-lock.
If the enemies are on the ground, it’s all too easy to stroll over and start kicking their heads in with your high heels, but if the weak spot is a tiny bit off the ground, you have to do a really awkward jump attack that has completely disregarded any sort of physics that have ever been observed. Performing a gravity kick (like flying kick, only with gravity), on the other hand, will sometimes see you glide straight past your target for no apparent reason. All of this pales in importance when you realise that Kat’s ability to change gravity isn’t used in a truly interesting way in combat. You can’t land on enemies, you can’t pull them towards you, you can’t crush them with it. While there are some special attacks that are fun to use and spectacular to watch, they don’t focus around gravity, and it seems like a wasted opportunity.
The blandness of the enemies themselves only serves to really emphasize just how badly the combat lets the game down. Nevi, the barely formed read and black blobs, are just boring to look at and tedious to fight. Even bosses are a yawn-festival, and because Kat has the ability to gravity shift away in a timely manner, there’s not much challenge to the fights themselves. Shift away, gravity kick, shift away, and if it gets really tough, you may have to dodge once.
When Kat isn’t flailing in combat or falling around and giving anyone with motion sickness the worst day of their life, her story is told out through short cutscenes and comic strips, which can be manipulated with the six-axis and by touching the screen. While these sections are a beautiful and interesting way to tell the story, Gravity Rush uses an idea I once suggested to a developer: the language spoken in the game is incomprehensible, forcing you to read the text. It sounds a little like a French/Japanese hybrid, but the fact that I’m not skipping conversations that I’ve already finished is pure genius (which is why I thought of it in the first place).
Unfortunately reading all the text doesn’t help you understand what’s going on in the story. There are so many dead-end subplots and pointless character introductions that the game is left without any clear focus or direction. I can’t tell if something was lost in translation, or if the game should have been a manga or an anime instead, but between the puzzles, side-missions and gravity manipulation, you’ll find you want to finish the game no matter how nonsensical the story is.
- Reviewed On
- PS Vita