Monday, June 18, 2012

Video Game Review: Gravity Rush (Playstation Vita)

Since the release of the Playstation Vita, gamers have been looking for a title that’s going to make this handheld worth the price tag. Some thought Uncharted: Golden Abyss would be that title. Some thought it might be Resistance: Burning Skies. And some out there believed it would be a niche little title, known as Gravity Rush (Gravity Daze in Japan). Unlike the aforementioned, Gravity Rush is a completely new IP, with an interesting gameplay mechanic and universe to boot. Does this one reach new heights, or does it fall flat on its face? Depending on what you know about this game already, the answer may surprise you.

Before I delve right into the game-play, I’d like to first talk about the story of the game, as I feel it’s going to easily be the most looked-over feature of the entire experience, and I really wanted to touch on it. You play as a girl named Kat, who finds herself in a very unique looking city, with a creature resembling a cat, which she names Dusty. Kat has no recollection of her past up to the present moment, and finds she has the ability to manipulate gravity itself, with the help of Dusty. With this ability, she decides to use it for good and help people in the city (named Hekseville), as it faces attacks from a series of creatures known as the Nevi. This is just the bare-bones of the game’s plot details however. As Gravity Rush carries on, Kat goes through quite a bit of a quest, both spiritually and mentally, giving the viewers something surprisingly deep and compelling, all while keeping a relate-able main character for us to journey with. The ending leaves many details open and a lot more questions to still be answered, but this is the kind of plot that’s guaranteed to draw you in and not let you go until the very end.

The visuals are something else for this title to boast about, as we witness a beautiful cel-shaded comic book art style and comic panel cutscenes to boot. All of this, combined with the flashy look of the game makes for quite a pleasing experience on the eyes, especially when flying across different parts of the city and over tall buildings. The PS Vita’s motion technology actually allows you to shift the view of the comic book panels a bit as you are reading each. It’s nothing really impactful, but a nice little touch that will leave you going “Oh, neat.” Environments are an interesting mix between city landscapes, dreamlike wonderlands with floating mushrooms and lily-pads, and even a fiery inferno. Every time you think you’ve got the setting of this game figured out, it throws you another curveball, just to keep you on your toes.

One more aspect of Gravity Rush, which I have to give some serious credit to, is the game’s soundtrack. It’s very easy for video game music to miss the mark, especially when certain moods and emotions are trying to be conveyed on-screen. This game hits the nail on the head with music that can range from gloomy, to bright and jazzy at all the right times. The battle music will actually make you want to jump in and get past each challenge you’re presented with. This is another feature that’s likely going to be overlooked and that’s quite a shame.

And now we have arrived at the big guns of this review. The gameplay is one of the most interesting and unique interfaces I’ve come across in a very long time. Kat can run around town like in any standard action game, until you press the right shoulder button. This puts Kat in her anti-gravity state, making her begin to float in the air. Pressing the right shoulder button again will make her begin to dash into the air, facing whichever direction you are aiming in. You can also fly into walls to make Kat start to walk up them, or hit the square button to make her perform a high-kick on whatever floating enemy may be in front of you. Hitting the right shoulder button again while dashing will cause Kat to stop and float once again, enabling you to change direction if you so choose. Hitting the left shoulder button will deactivate the ability and make Kat begin to fall once again. Direction can also be changed with the gyro sensor built into the system, giving the player more of a motion-control option if they prefer. The controls may sound very strange, and they even feel that way at first. However, once you’ve gotten the hang of things after a little practice, everything becomes second nature, and you’ll soon find yourself flying all over town because it’s just so fun to do, let alone explore. There are limitations to this bliss however, as you cannot stay in the air forever. Flying for a certain amount of time will cause your gravity gauge to deplete, making you have to either find somewhere to land, or simply allow the meter run out, as you witness Kat fall from whatever height she had reached until the gauge recharges again. Luckily, the gauge recharges rather quickly, so most setbacks are minor in this case. Did I mention Kat takes no damage when she falls to the ground, no matter how high up she is?

Kat also has melee combos she can perform on the ground when fighting with the Nevi, and her abilities can be upgraded as the game goes on, based on the number of gems you collect while fighting and flying through the city. There are also multiple mini-games and challenges to be found, which prove to be just as engaging, forcing you to use all of your special abilities in ways you may have not thought of initially.

The touchscreen can play a large part in this game as well. After hitting the select button to view your map, you can use the touchscreen to move the map around or even view different parts of it. You can click an icon on the map to mark it for you to find quicker and easier as well. The touchscreen is also a big part of the combat in the game. Swiping the screen while Kat is fighting on the ground enables her to evade enemy attacks. It also allows her (when the time is right) to execute a special finishing move against a boss character. These are very nice to watch, as they are all quite flashy and stylish. One more ridiculously fun use of the screen is Kat’s ability to slide. By holding your thumbs on the two bottom corners of the screen and using the gyro sensor to direct, Kat can slide across virtually any terrain in the game, making for some fun racing mini-games and means of dodging/attacking. I’m not generally a fan of motion controls, but I have to give it to this formula, as it works perfectly here.

The main issues of the game are to be had with the combat, as the mid-air high kicks and dashes aren’t always as accurate as you would like. There are times where you could be targeting an enemy with a mid-air kick, only for the enemy to move about an inch to the side and cause you to miss completely. This forces you to be very precise, which can be quite difficult in certain situations, especially when you’re still getting used to the control scheme in general. This is slightly remedied by the ability to hit the triangle button when another meter charges up, allowing Kat to do a special attach that aims for all the enemy’s weak points and charges at them all for as long as the gauge is active. There is another small nitpick I have, involving an ability Kat gains later in the game. This allows her to telepathically pick up items with the circle button, and throw them at whatever target she aims at by hitting the circle button again. While this is an awesome move when done right, as can help considerably when you wish you had more ranged attacks, it can be quite bothersome to aim. Sometimes you will be certain you targeted an enemy perfectly, only to see the projectile completely miss and fly right around them. It’s a small gripe, but it did become bothersome at least a few times in my playthrough.

With all sorts of side-quests and hidden items and bosses, there is actually quite a bit to do in Hekseville. Replay value also lies in trying to get gold medals on all of the challenges, as well upgrade all of Kat’s abilities and attributes. The main game will take at least 10 hours, even if you’re planning to skip most of the sidequests, though I wouldn’t recommend that, as you’d be missing out on a huge part of what makes this game such a pleasure to come back to. The game also has enough of a balanced system, where you won’t feel like you missed out you chose to level up Kat one way instead of another. Every method is fun in its own way, and experimentation is welcome instead of shunned.

Slight combat blunders aside, this is a brilliant and unique title that everyone with a Vita should play. I don’t think I’d go as far as to call this game a “system seller” per se, but that doesn’t make this title any less brilliant. Fans of the game ‘Nights Into Dreams’ may even find some little nods here and there in the way Kat flies around the city, only adding to the already dreamlike experience. I'd love to see a sequel with more story and some slightly improved combat to add to the experience next time. As it is however, this is one of the most innovative titles to come out in a long time, and it’d be a crying shame for it to get overlooked.

8.5 Gravity Kicks Out Of 10

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