IGN Editor Ryan Clements famously declared that Gravity Rush was the reason he was buying a Vita. However, he might want to rescind that statement. Gravity Rush is fun -- its protagonist and story are two of my favorites on the handheld -- but clunky combat and a flat finish keep it from being the hit PlayStation Vita players have been hoping for.
Gravity Rush is a superhero origin story. Our blonde protagonist Kat falls from the sky, wakes up with no memory, and finds that she can alter gravity with the help of her astral cat named Dusty. As evil globs of reddish black muck -- called "nevi" -- invade Kat's adoptive home of Hekeville, she learns to master her powers, going from outcast to savior.
By far, Kat’s tale is one of the most interesting and most underreported parts of Gravity Rush. Our 15-minute tradeshow demos never touched on the story, so finding Kat to be an interesting, funny and relatable protagonist caught me by surprise. The way her tale flows effortlessly from gameplay to simple comic book-panel cutscenes to her summations of missions really makes Kat feel like a hero worthy of a manga -- even if the anime clichés of "I wish I had a boyfriend" and a needless shower scene crop up. Sadly, though, there's no closure for her. It’s a fun ride, but things end abruptly and her character is never explained.
We overlooked the story in passing previews because Gravity Rush has such a unique movement system. Kat obtains the ability to reorient gravity. If she's looking at a wall, she can change how gravity applies to her and fall towards that wall -- she can make it her floor.
All gravity manipulation is governed by the right shoulder button. You tap it, Kat hovers, and you aim where you want to have her "fall." It may sound a bit tough to wrap your head around, but once you get going, it's a breeze to feel comfortable and powerful with the system. Falling into the sky, hovering above the watercolor rooftops, and then shooting off to a faraway mission -- it's a setup that feels fantastical and makes the world a joy to explore.
Trouble is: combat gets clunky. In the beginning, Kat's facing off against nevi the size of small dogs, so walking up and punting them is pretty easy. However, then you're introduced to elephant-sized monsters with weak points located on their backs, which is where the controls can grate. When you're up high and get a bead on a baddie, the reticle will get a red ring around it letting you know you have a shot at the weak point. You hold down the kick button, and Kat soars in for an attack. However, sometimes the enemy will move or shift ever so slightly, and she'll sail by without making contact.
In the beginning, this isn't a big deal. You just jump in the air and try again, but when you're late into the 10-hour campaign and fighting flying worm-monsters, it's frustrating to be getting blasted by smaller enemies, miss a hit and have to work your way back into the sky to reposition for the kill. Gravity Rush throws you a bone by giving you some special attacks that lock on the weak point targets, but they have a cool down period, so sometimes I'd just hang out behind buildings and wait for the special attack to recharge rather than try air kicks.
Don't let that spoil the whole package, though. Gravity Rush is more than those late-game battles. Watching Kat interact with the citizens of Hekeville and get flustered when complimented is endearing. Pink gems are scattered throughout the city for you to collect and use to upgrade Kat's abilities -- her health, her attacks, and so on. The only trouble is that for as pretty as the graphics in this game are, the relatively mediocre draw distance can make targeting those gems tough and the visuals look bland.
The gems also unlock challenges around the city. These are the game's side missions -- enemy brawls and races that reward you with more gems and a spot on the online leaderboards. (Full disclosure: the leaderboards are not working at the time of this review, but, uh, they're leaderboards, so you probably get the idea.) They're enjoyable, but I would've preferred more traditional side quests instead of challenges. Gravity Rush is strictly main story missions and these leaderboard ops.
One of those race types focuses on the Gravity Slide. This is one of those "Vita-only" instances. You put both thumbs on the front touch, Kat takes off sliding, and you tilt the system left and right to steer her down the course. I'm notoriously not a fan of motion controls, but Gravity Rush is an example of how to do them right. I'm actually looking forward to going back and trying to get gold medals on these races. The same can be said for the other touch controls in the game. When you've worn a boss down in Gravity Rush, a blue circle appears around them. You tap it, and Kat dishes out a cinematic finisher. Cool.
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Reviewing Gravity Rush is a battle between my heart and my head. I love Kat and totally dig most of the superhero story, but the cumbersome combat in latter missions definitely had me cursing at my handheld. Still, if you're looking for a lite JRPG or cool comic game, you should dig Gravity Rush despite its flaws. Just don't expect it to justify purchasing your Vita.