The original Gravity Rush was an important release for Sony’s Vita handheld: it was a high-profile, first-party release, which the system has not, to date, seen all that many of, and is unlikely to see any more.
It was positively received at the time of its original release by press and public alike, but Sony’s consistently poor marketing of the platform — coupled with a general sense of apathy by the more “mainstream” parts of the gaming community — meant that it passed a lot of people by.
And that’s a great shame, as it was an excellent game. Thankfully, Bluepoint Games managed to give it a second chance on the much more popular and widespread PlayStation 4 in the form of enhanced port Gravity Rush Remastered, so a whole new audience can discover the joy of swooping around Hekseville.
As a game, Gravity Rush is actually a little difficult to describe or pigeon-hole into a genre. This is actually a good thing, and one of the numerous aspects that makes it so memorable: it’s not really just one thing.
There are elements of open-world action adventures. There’s the item collecting of 3D platformers. There’s the combat of character action games. There’s the progression of RPGs. And it’s all tied together by the presence of one of the most memorable protagonists in recent memory: Kat.
We don’t really know anything about Kat from the outset of the game — and neither does she. In fact, she doesn’t even know her name at the beginning of the story: she only gets called “Kat” in reference to the mysterious, star-filled cat that appears to have taken a liking to her, and which is the source of her mysterious ability to shift gravity in any direction around herself. The name sticks, however, and it fits her perfectly.
Kat reveals herself quite quickly to be a somewhat flighty young girl who is rather immature in many of her attitudes. She’s kind, optimistic and naive, always keen to do the right thing and not quite sure what to do when it all backfires on her — as happens in the introductory sequence, where she manages to rescue someone, but is unable to save their home — and she frequently indulges in the flights of fancy you’d expect from a typical teenage girl. She wants people to think she’s cute, she has an idealised view of romance and she always wants to assume the best intentions from people, even when they’re obviously complete dickheads. Her relentless positivity is infectious, and a wonderful antidote to the negativity and grimness we get from many other modern games.
She’s fun to play as, too. When on the ground, she runs around with an endearingly determined posture — a particularly impressive achievement, given the heels she’s wearing — and shifting gravity causes her to tumble chaotically through the sky rather than flying gracefully like a more conventional “superhero”. Her Gravity Slide ability shifts the pace and feel of traversing the world into something that temporarily feels more like an extreme sports skateboarding title, while aerial combat can be performed either up close or at range using her Gravity Kick and Stasis Field manoeuvres, the latter of which even gives the game a “shooter” feel at times.
You’re free to use each of Kat’s abilities as you see fit from the outset of the game, with different ones being more or less suited to various situations. For example, aerial combat might seem frustrating against fast enemies, until you realise that throwing objects using the Stasis Field to hit them at range is much more effective. Chasing an enemy might seem impossible on foot until you decide to pursue them by Gravity Sliding instead. And hiding from enemies that you don’t want to see you takes on a whole new dimension — literally — when you get your head around the fact that Kat can stand on walls and ceilings positioned at angles completely at odds with where you think “down” is.
Once the introductory sequence is over, Kat has a choice of things to do. There is a linear main storyline to follow, which gradually unlocks the complete map as Kat restores transport links between the districts of Hekseville and recovers missing sections from otherworldly “Rift Planes”, but in between times there are a number of locations where Kat can donate “Precious Gems” she has collected to unlock “Challenge Missions” as well as a series of DLC missions (bundled in with Remastered) themed around different costumes.
The Challenge Missions have nothing to do with the main story and indeed have no narrative context whatsoever, but they provide a good opportunity to get to know Kat’s arsenal of moves as well as testing the effectiveness of powering them up — a process which also uses collected Precious Gems. The challenges Kat is tasked with taking on range from defeating as many enemies as possible in a set time to completing races using her gravity-shifting or sliding abilities and, while simple, they’re both a lot of fun and a good source of Precious Gems to improve her power.
The Challenge Missions are one aspect of the game that very much brings to mind titles such as Rare’s platformers on the Nintendo 64 and later games such as Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter series. They’re designed to be replayable, with three tiers of target times or scores to achieve, and even feature online leaderboard functionality, but are mostly a straightforward, gameplay-centric way to showcase all the different abilities that Kat has as well as challenging the player to apply these in a variety of unusual situations.
They can also be absolutely infuriating, of course — but incredibly addictive.
The story missions, by contrast, are more involved affairs that feature multiple stages of objectives punctuated by narrative sequences. Through these missions, we learn more about Kat, the world in which she finds herself and what, exactly is going on. Hekseville is a city floating in the sky, beneath which is an ominous-looking “gravity storm” from which monsters called “Nevi” occasionally appear. At the time we join Kat, all this is just accepted as a natural part of life by Hekseville’s residents, but Kat’s natural curiosity — another aspect in which her name is entirely appropriate — leads her to investigate things in more detail.
The story missions include a combination of challenges set in and around the city of Hekseville, and in three fantastic Rift Planes, each of which feature impossible landscapes and distinctly more “game-like” challenges. The first takes place in a series of shattered ruins floating high in the sky, the second in some gravity-defying lava caves and the last in a rather Alice in Wonderland-ish world of giant mushrooms, floating lily pads and precarious jumps. The latter, on your first visit, provides a significant twist on the core gameplay seen up until that point by severely limiting Kat’s abilities after her cat Dusty eats something he shouldn’t have, and it’s surprising quite how much difference this makes to getting around: you come to realise quite how much freedom Kat’s gravity-shifting power has really given you up until this point.
Once you’ve cleared the Rift Planes for the first time, there are even some further Challenge Missions that take place in them, many of which provide some of the most satisfying, difficult tasks in the game. There’s an immensely challenging roller-coaster race through the lava-themed Rift Plane, for example, which feels stomach-churning while you’re in the middle of it — and so good when you eventually beat it — and the ruins play host to an immensely enjoyable enemy-bashing mission where Kat’s normally limited super special moves are totally unlocked and unleashed, allowing you to summon black holes, throw boulders and turn Kat into a human drill with gay abandon.
There’s something of a “dream-like” feel to the setting and the overall story — which, it becomes clear later in the narrative is entirely deliberate — and a lot of things are left quite vague and up to interpretation. This is not a game that will answer all your questions by its conclusion; indeed, there are a number of sequences in the late game that provoke more questions than they answer, and it’s not until the sequel that some of them get addressed. This is good to know now, but was a little confusing back at the time of its original Vita release, leading some critics to feel like the narrative had lost its direction a bit in its latter hours.
Gravity Rush’s many mysteries are compelling, though — particularly with the knowledge that the sequel addresses and explores them in further depth — and alongside its Franco-Belgian comic book-inspired aesthetic, give the whole experience a feeling somewhat akin to a French arthouse movie.
It’s a game that will keep you thinking long after you’ve put it down, and absolutely one of the most memorable titles in Sony’s library, both in its Vita and PS4 incarnations. If you have the chance to play it, don’t sleep on it!
More about Gravity Rush
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