Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
The game is an open-world superhero simulator for the Vita, Sony’s new portable console. You play Kat, an amnesiac young woman with a pet cat (or possibly a meowing cat-shaped hole in the universe or something, I don’t know; it has a starfield instead of fur) that gives her the power to shift gravity around. It’s set in a floating city that is, roughly, a steampunk take on France as animated by 80s Hayao Miyazaki circa Kiki’s Delivery Service. The city, Hecksville, is under siege by monsters of unknown providence called Nevi, and occasionally beset by other gravity-shifters, who are apparently common enough that you meet people who say “Gravity-shifters are all no-good troublemakers!” and such even though only one other gravity-shifter ever appears in the actual game. Also there’s a notorious, masked, master-thief supervillain called Alias.
In most respects it plays the way you’d expect a third-person action game to play—left stick moves, right stick shifts camera. There’s a melee button and a jump button. The game’s main gimmick is that by hitting R you can suspend gravity and float. When floating, by hitting R again, the direction you’re pointing becomes down. Alternately, when floating, you can hit the kick button to do a super flying kick. This is incredibly fun once you get the hang of it, and helped along by the care the design team put into animating Kat—she looks like she’s being tossed around by variable gravity, a sort of half-controlled flailing. She moves with weight and heft. Beyond that, the game has some other play gimmicks—the usual array of special attacks and unique travel techniques, like a slide. Also, while floating, you can reorient the camera with the right stick. You can do it another way by swinging the Vita around. The system’s internal gyroscope functions as a more accurate camera control. It’s neat!
The story is a mess—there’s three major plot threads, but the ending only resolves one, and it’s the last one introduced. The whole thing plays like watching the first arc of the first season of a multi-season TV show intended to run into perpetuity—but I think this is saved by Kat’s personality. She’s a great character to watch. The city is literally called heck, floats in an empty void, and is beset by devils, and one character claims to be the retired creator of the world and has the sort of powers you’d expect a retired god to have, so the story could easily have gotten lost in the sort of pretentious nonsense pseudophilosophy that’s been so popular in Japanese media since Evangelion, but Kat doesn’t care at all. She engages in nothing like reflection as to the larger meaning of events she’s caught up in throughout the game; she just wants to help people and make a life for herself. I don’t think she gets more than two moments of self-reflection about her amnesia and the source of her superpowers, and she never angsts about anything. Very practical-minded, very focused on whatever problem is at hand, never hesitates to take action, likes meeting new people and wants to think the best of them. It’s refreshing. Mind you, she’s a bit naïve, and doesn’t always recognize problems as problems right away. As much of a mess as it is, I think it’s more subtly sophisticated storytelling than we often get in video games these days.
Sony sells the Vita as a home console you can carry around, and the launch lineup did not deliver on that promise. Gravity Rush does. If you have a Vita, there’s no reason not to get this game (unless you suffer from vertigo, in which case you might want to just try the demo). If you do not have a Vita… hmm. It’s great, but I don’t know if it’s cost-of-a-Vita great. It’s a step in the right direction for the console, though.
This review is based on a digital copy of Gravity Rush paid for with personal funds.
Previously - Prototype 2