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Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Gravity Rush (Vita)

I’m still not sure Gravity Rush knows what it wanted to be when in development, the obvious gameplay gimmick aside. The open world, cute cel-shaded graphics, platformer- inspired puzzle sequences, RPG-style music and combat that might have been borrowed from an early Kingdom Hearts game never quite mesh together comfortably.

Taken individually, every individual element within the game is something special. There’s been real care put into creating something new and reasonably innovative, and for an early-release Vita game it’s refreshing to see that the whole experience is hardware gimmick-free – it’s entirely possible to play through 90 per cent of the game using the Vita as a traditional controller. And meshed together, as awkward as Gravity Rush is at times, it’s still a genuinely good time.

The main trick this game has up its sleeve is, of course, the ability to mess with gravity. A simple tap of the R-button and Kat, the protagonist, floats up in the air. Another tap and she’ll fly in whatever direction she’s aimed at. If she comes into contact with a floor or ceiling by doing this, that will become the “ground,” which she can use to run around as normal.

The one catch is this power is limited, and if the timer runs out, gravity will revert to normal. This may well mean Kat is dumped into a bottomless abyss. Later on it’ll feel like there’s never really enough time to accomplish everything while there’s still gravity power “in reserve” – this game can have a nice bite to it, for all its cutsey visual style.

Because this is an open world, the game largely moves at whatever pace you would like it to, though if I am being brutally honest, as a hub, the overworld is a rather vacant beauty – stunning to look at, but missions aside, not much is switched on. It reminded me a little of No More Hero’s bland overworld, if No More Heroes was a cel-shaded version of the movies Dark City and City of Lost Children meshed together. It’s a little unfortunate that the world isn’t more engaging, because it’s a world that you will want to engage with.

Get into the missions and the game shows its real depth of ideas. It offers up everything – stealth, frantic action, platforming and side quests feature challenge missions for medals and loot. Side quests include races and challenges to kill as many enemies within the time frame. All of this is broken up by the combat, which really is little more than a distraction. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s very one note and strategy amounts to little more than setting Kat up to hurl either herself, or some of the nearby scenery, at glowing enemy weakpoints. Boss battles follow the same formula and although those are epic in size, the tactics required to beat them are just a little to straightforward considering how refreshingly original the rest of the game is.

But the combat isn’t the focus of the game, and it’s important to remember that. The real joy of Gravity Rush lies with the heroine, Kat, who has a gorgeous personality and is one of the most endearing new characters in recent years, and the simple exploration of a city, no longer inhibited by gravity. Finding a bit of treasure hidden behind a turn on the ceiling is one of those rare moments in modern gaming that can be considered to be a “new” experience, and it’s a rewarding one.

- Matt S

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Review: Gravity Rush (Vita)
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