Review: Gravity Rush

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I either own or have played a good majority of the currently available Vita games since the handheld was first released. I've enjoyed downloadable titles like Mutant Blobs Attack and Escape Plan for their ability to provide bite-sized gaming, as well as AAA titles like Uncharted Golden Abyss that truly push the limits of the Vita. For the most part my experiences with the Vita have been genuinely positive. The occasional Little Deviants and Asphalt Injection weren't enough to mar an otherwise quality gaming line-up. Gravity Rush, developed by SCE Japan, falls into the former category and should be on every Vita owners list.

Things begin simple and serene. The opening cut scene of the game begins with a beautiful cell-shaded apple tree blowing gently in the wind. With no prompting from the game I'm drawn inexplicably to a single apple and start tapping it from the front screen of the Vita. After a few taps the apple breaks free of its branch and rolls (what seems endlessly) down a hill and into a city, eventually resting next to the sleeping character you will play as - Kat.

Kat is the all-too-common protagonist in a videogame that awakens with a good case of amnesia. She doesn't know who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Initially I was a bit concerned that this often-used story device would lead to other well-known gameplay mechanics. I couldn't have been more wrong.

While working through the story - wonderfully detailed through a mixture of comic book style windows, short cut scenes, and discussions between Kat and the city inhabitants that brought to mind Metal Gear Solid (you'll know when you see it) - you'll experience one of the better gaming mechanics on either handheld or console. Kat is dubbed a (gravity) Shifter that, through the magical help of her feline familiar spirit - a small black cat she affectionately names Dusty - she is able to alter the gravitational pull of her environment. With the simple use of the Vita's right trigger gravity is effectively turned off and Kat immediately levitates a few feet off the ground. Using the reticule you can choose a spot above, below, or to either side, to "rush" toward. Walking on walls or ceilings, or flying through the city, is an exhilarating experience and a gaming mechanic that works quite well.

As you work to uncover the mystery behind Kat's existence and how she obtained her powers, you'll also become the savior of Hekseville - the city that floats in the clouds. Charged with defending the city against attacks from the Nevi - blob-like creatures that vary in size and shape - you'll also have plenty of opportunity to upgrade your various gravity abilities based on the number of crystals that you find scattered throughout the city. Whether upgrading your combat, special moves, or the gauge that limits your gravitational abilities, you'll want to seek these crystals out wherever you go.

Being a game designed exclusively for the Vita you might expect that it goes well out of its way to incorporate every function of the handheld - like so many of the other Vita titles have. Well, I'm happy to say that, for the most part, you'll be playing the 12-15 hour game (yes, it's at least that long) while primarily using the analog sticks, and face and shoulder buttons. The game does allow for consistent use of the Vita's gyroscope, but it's never required. Aside from that, there are a few instances that work-in some fairly minor, but intuitive, front touch screen mechanics.

Still, where much of the gameplay works extrordinarily well, the lack of a combat lock-on promotes several frustrating sequences. It's not that the game is all that difficult. However, when faced with numerous enemies at once - in the air and on the ground - and gravity is shifting all over the place, you'll quickly lose your bearings and not quickly grasp which way is up or down. It can, all too often, be a disorienting experience and is compounded when being worked over by multiple enemies. The addition of a simple targeting lock-on mechanic could have rectified this issue and I'm hoping for just such an update with any future Gravity Rush release.

Although you'll quickly lose focus on realizing Kat's background while moving from one section of city to the next, there are some fairly heavy concepts that are woven into the story. The idea of a space/time dimensional rift, spirits and spirituality, dream worlds, and magic all find their way into the story of Gravity Rush. Unfortunately, none of these concepts help to explain Kat's existence. Just the opposite, where confusion may have started early on, the game ends with frustration knowing that the developer is saving that explanation for a follow up sequel.

Disappointing ending aside (really more of a disappointment in its open-ended "finality"), and the need for a more polished targeting system, Gravity Rush was an incredible experience and, once again, proves that the PlayStation Vita is on the right track. I'm not a believer in the argument that there are "no games" to play on this handheld. I feel that since its release there's been plenty to keep me occupied. If you fall into that category of Vita doom-and-gloom you need to get your hands on Gravity Rush.  It has been one of my favorite gaming experiences all year . . . on any device . . . console, handheld, or mobile.