Funny how falling feels like flying: PAR plays Gravity Rush
Our thoughts about a game’s world can be colored by how we enter it. Kat, the protagonist in the just-released PlayStation Vita exclusive Gravity Rush, falls from the sky and lands in a city she doesn’t recognize, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. This is a confusing situation, to be sure, but it gets worse (better?) when Kat discovers that a mysterious cat named Dusty has given her the ability to control gravity itself. By changing which way is “down,” Kat can fly through the air, run up the sides of buildings, or along the edges of cliffs.
It may sound like a super power, but imagine for a second that gravity has reversed itself and you’re now falling towards the ceiling. Would you know how to land? Could you contort your body in such a way that you wouldn’t break your neck? Kat often appears clumsy and out of control during the early sections of the game, and some of her landings look downright painful. You also have a limited time to enjoy your newly oriented gravity; once your power meter runs out you’ll fall back towards Earth. This leads to a sort of panicked desperation in many scenes, especially when the game asks you to be stealthy. Can you make it to your destination before gravity reasserts itself?
Kat’s scarf and hair always point down, giving you a sort of compass that always shows you where to find the ground. This is important, especially when you begin flipping gravity this way and that, changing your direction in midair. The city of Hekseville opens up once you begin to master this use of gravity, and as you explore the city and collect gems you can level up your character to increase your abilities. This allows you to do better in the numerous in-game challenges that litter your surroundings. These missions and their rewards give you something to do between the story missions; Gravity Rush is a game that rewards exploration and curiosity.
This is more Sweet Valley High than Dark Knight
While the idea of a woman who can fly suffering from amnesia in a dystopian world that is being pulled apart by “gravity storms” and monsters called the Nevi may sound dark, Kat herself never seems to let things get her down. She’s put off by people’s reactions to her powers, sure, but she remains upbeat and flirty throughout the game. Her powers may seem confusing and scary, but that doesn’t keep her from finding a lair in the sewers and decorating it with castoff furniture before taking a nice shower. When life hands you a mysterious past and godlike powers, it doesn’t help anything to get all freaked out. Why not just explore and enjoy?
The story is told through comic book style cutscenes, and the characters and situations presented to the player are wacky and surreal. Gravity Rush has an odd tone; the stakes are high but the game never feels heavy. You always have time to talk to people, explore Hekseville’s architecture, and find more gems. Kat is usually sure she can help the people around her because of course she can. While many of us would turn into nervous wrecks in this situation, Kat just smiles, laughs, and makes the most of it… even when that means slamming into the ground after a barely controlled free fall.
There are many games that try to seem dreamlike, but Gravity Rush nails that feeling. It’s a power fantasy tempered with that feeling you get when you wake from dreams of falling a moment before hitting the ground. The combat may be a little repetitive, and you better believe it becomes hard to keep track of the ground as you fly around the boss battles, but the thrill of your newly discovered powers and the strange way the story unfolds makes up for the few game play foibles. Gravity Rush is pleasant, and that feeling of safety and fun extends to the thrilling act of flying through the air and landing on floating platforms, paying no attention to which way is up or down. If your gravity meter runs dry you can find yourself falling into oblivion, but the penalties for death are almost non-existent.
The game doesn’t beat you over the head with touch controls, and you can either use the Vita’s motion controls or the right analog stick to select your target when falling; Gravity Rush is the rare Vita exclusive that understands the beautiful screen and dual analog controls are a much better selling point than tacking on touch controls. If you’ve dreamed of flying, or are scared of falling, Gravity Rush will get its hooks in you. When I’m not playing the game, I’m thinking about it. This the sort of exclusive that will sell the Vita to skeptical gamers.