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

Monday, June 11, 2012

AnimeNEXT 2012!!!!!

Greetings everybody! I'm happy to say all my initial fears from the last time I went to AnimeNEXT have been more or less sorted out and fixed for just about everyone. The volunteers were actually very nice and friendly this time, there was MUCH better planning in terms of which panels would be more popular and how to find the right rooms to host them all in, and things felt spaced out much better so that were didn't all feel like we were cramped in a bunch of small spaces this year. From this point on, I think it best to do a breakdown of all three days and name all the awesome things that happened (No really, I promise some of these are very entertaining!).

It only took 12 episodes to charge the shot!


Okay! So things started off a little lame because of the fact that the line for pre-registered guests was the longest it has ever been, while the line to simply register was... well, nonexistent. It was ridiculously annoying. Why even pre-register if you're going to wait over an hour and a half longer to get inside like that? The only plus was that my 3DS picked up over 50 weapon gems for Kid Icarus: Uprising while I was in that line, as well as some items for Resident Evil: Revelations and Super Mario 3D Land (and every time I emptied them out, I immediately got more). There were so many people with 3DS's, I loved it. The "Brony" shirt I was wearing also got a large number of compliments and bro-pounds (or should I say, bro-hoofs?).

After finally getting IN, Kelsey and I ventured forth and I immediately spotted some friends of mine just from walking around (Kyle, Nasser, Ralph, Justin B, etc.) and we all said "hi" and messed around. The good thing about the first day of a con is that you get more of a chance to really get used to all the surroundings, since all the biggest events happen on Saturday. Instead of running to get to panels, you can relax more, meet new people, and see what all the dealers and artists are selling. On top of getting some great cosplay pictures (which you can view on my Facebook!), we also found some awesome stuff to throw our money at. I got an S.H. Figurearts Gokai Red figure, and the two Yu-Gi-Oh! R mangas I was missing (still sealed with the cards inside thankfully!).

Nerd swag.

After all of that and lunch, we went over to some panels. First we went to 'WTF Moments of Anime and Manga,' a panel that started off amazingly, only to get a little sidetracked near the middle due to some annoying patterns from the audience. I liked the panel, but had sort of mixed thoughts on the way the time between presentation and audience interaction balanced out. Too much audience interaction can make some panels go a bit out of control, and while I thought the girls doing the panel did a great job, things did get a little insane by the end. After this was the 'Abridged Series Panel,' showcasing all sorts of people from different abridged versions of our favorite animes and such. Aside from the people hosting this panel being a little... well, nuts, the videos shown were a mix of great and decent. They made abridged episodes of Angelic Layer, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and even Kamen Rider Fourze (or as they called it, Kamen Rider Four Shizzle(... Eh, it was okay at best.). I wasn't really excited about much of anything for Friday panel-wise, so Kelsey and I also went to the Sailor Moon abridged panel (as that's her favorite anime ever!!!) and Sailor Moon Abridged is actually really funny, whether you like the Sailor Moon series or not. They showed a new episode and kinda screwed around because they had extra time to do nothing.

Not too much else went on that night besides walking around and meeting new people (like the awesome DJ Cutman, who makes beats with video game music!). I wasn't really interested in the Berryz Kobo concert, after I watched a video of them singing for two minutes and felt like a pedophile, but that's okay because it all led up to...


That's right; this was the big one folks!!! Where to even begin...

We came right over to the 'Saturday Morning Cartoons' panel, only to find out the poor guy's disc broke in half during his travel of multiple states to get here, so we were stuck watching Muppet Babies for a while, (which wasn't bad since he picked the Indiana Jones and Star Wars episodes), but still, when you're missing the first part of the new Thundercats season finale for that, you tend to get a little disappointed. It didn't help finding out he had some bad-ass stuff on that other disc like Sonic SatAM and 80s Thundercats. It's alright though, because we all had fun joking around and then headed to a panel called 'Writing for Dubs,' hosted by Funimation's Leah Clark. This was probably the first panel I was actually legitimately interested in for the day, as I never did quite understand the dubbing process for these shows, and she even made us keep most of the things she talked about a secret due to the confidentiality of her job. It was basically like a Wonka Factory for anime dubbing. There's no other way to describe that. After the panel, she was kind enough to sign little flyers of the series "Panty & Stocking" for everyone. She was a very nice and funny woman, and I hope she comes back again next year.

Apparently, this show is hilarious according to everyone at the con, EVER!

There was an independent game design panel, but for some reason, I decided not to bother. I can't explain what it is, but for some reason I just didn't feel too compelled to bother. I suppose I've heard enough about how the industry works to feel it worthwhile again (though the guy hosting it, and other panels at this con was hilarious, and I'll get into how I know that later).

Next up, I decided to try the "Robotech Industry Panel," hosted by Kevin Mckeever, Robotech's chief marketing coordinator. He started with a slide show presentation about how far the series has come, and then into the future. He also talked about the current models and toys being released as well, and went on to answer questions and even gave us random prizes for asking them (I got a brochure for the documentary with a timeline and one of the soundtrack CDs). Some lucky people made off with some expensive models too. Lucky people, heh. I had asked him if there were any plans to bring the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series back into production (as the old AnimeEGO sets are long out of print and expensive as hell on eBay). To my surprise (and joy!), he told me they were actually looking into releasing it once again. This made me very happy in itself, let alone getting free stuff just for asking about it!

The absolute STRANGEST, and I mean STRANGEST moment of the con occurs in this next paragraph. Seriously, I can't even begin to describe how completely odd and random this was. Okay..., so right as me and Kelsey are leaving for a bit to go grab some dinner, we notice the girls of the Jpop group Berryz Kobo are outside right in front of the Double Tree hotel, doing an interview of some sort. Kelsey goes to ask their crew if she can take a picture, but they decline (which didn't surprise me really). As we start to walk toward our car, suddenly, I notice one of the girls from the group start to walk away from the rest and actually walk toward me. Maybe a couple of feet away tops, she smiles really big and starts waving at me. Me, not knowing what the hell just happened, kind of stopped in place (confusing the hell out of Kelsey, who had no idea what was going on), and smiled and waved back, apparently kind of flustered according to the way Kelsey described it. After that, the girl walked over to one of the crew people and started saying something to her in Japanese, continuing to look and smile directly at me. After a few seconds and them just talking the whole time, we finally started to walk back to our car again. At this point in time, Kelsey can't decide if she finds this all hilarious or wants to wring my neck until my eyes pop out. I... still don't know what to say. She made a funny comment afterward like "Why do you get hit on by hot Asian women and all I get are ugly and creepy guys!? I'd have preferred the Asian woman honestly!" Good times... I think...

Seriously, it was one of THEM! WTF!???? O_O"

Following that strange experience, and joking about it all through dinner while Kelsey contemplated more laughter/ways to commit murder, we came back to see what I believe is AnimeNEXT's first attempt at a tokusatsu panel, called 'It's Toku Time!' For those who don't know, tokusatsu is the Japanese word for "special effects." It is used as a genre title for various shows like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider (Japanese Power Rangers if you will). I admit, I was probably more excited for this panel than any other. I think they only thing I could find wrong with it per se, was the fact that the panel was supposed to be an intro to tokusatsu for people who don't know about it, even though almost all of the audience (including myself) was already a fan of multiple years. This made it very difficult for Kelsey to know what the hell was going on when people wouldn't stop shouting catch-phrases. A great start though, and I'll be thrilled to see them come back to do more panels again.

Immediately following the toku panel was a Pokemon panel, called 'Pokemon Power Hour With Dave Lister.' This panel has been done a few times in the past with this convention, and this was our first time going. They played all kinds of fun games with the audience like trivia and dodge ball, with some nice prizes thrown in like gym badges and plushies. They even added a mystery gift for players of the DS games to download, but to my dismay, it only worked for versions of Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, and maybe Gold and Silver as well. I had specifically left my travel case with all of those games at home, because I thought if they were going to add anything, it would have to be for Black and White. I was sadly mistaken, however the event was great and the crowd was beyond fun and lively. It's fun being in a room filled with teenagers and adults, who also aren't afraid to admit they love this series too. Did I mention it was hosted by that hilarious guy who hosted the Indie Game Development panel too? Epic win. There was a panel about bronies and anime fans after that, but I think Kelsey and I were too tired to bother at that point in the night. Que...


The final, and usually most depressing day of the con. For the short amount of time the con is open till on Sunday, we actually still got quite a bit done, making rounds through the dealer's room for a last-second look, as well as the artist alley once more. I even picked up the most amazing bumper sticker ever, saying "My Other Ride Is a Gundam."

If you disagree about it being the best, you're wrong.

I also wore a shirt that had so many compliments, one guy actually asked if he could take a picture of it!

I love this freaking shirt.

We also ended up with some more great cosplay pictures and even some funny and cute shots of the two of us. It was nice and happy.

You see that!? That's freaking happy!

So to sum everything up, this year's con not only addressed a lot of my complaints from previous years, but actually made a lot of things better (minus the dealer's room location. There's nothing right about having to walk around a building just to enter one area, especially when it could have rained at any time!). I had a great year and already can't wait till the next. Who knows what we'll see in the future years to come? I can't wait to find out. Thanks for reading!