|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: SCE Japan Studio|
|Release: June 12, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol|
by Sean Engemann
The PlayStation Vita has had something of a hushed stigma since its launch. Everybody was hoping for a console-like experience on a portable platform, and the hardware of the Vita can certainly provide that. However, so far the brunt of the Vita's releases have been either straight PS3 ports or shallow series spinoffs.
Gravity Rush itself was originally designed as a PlayStation 3 title, but director Keiichirō Toyama (the creator of Silent Hill) decided that the Vita could better showcase the gravitational manipulation through the various motion controls and touch interfaces. It doesn't come without flaws, but they are minor in the grand scheme of things, and it is immensely refreshing to see a brand new intellectual property on the fledgling portable system.
After the player plucks an apple from a branch via the touchscreen, it plummets off the spire its tree was rooted in and rolls around unblemished through the urban streets of a floating metropolis called Hekseville, rolling to a stop at the head of our unconscious leading lady. Suffering from a major bout of amnesia, she has no idea who she is, why an odd looking black cat is following her, and, most importantly, why this feline friend grants her the ability to control her personal gravity field. So begins our story.
Before there's any time for our heroine to ask questions, a local slums resident beckons her to help save his boy who is about to be pulled into swirling vortex in the sky. After the rescue, and a verbal scolding from the locals for being a gravity shifter (apparently, shifters are to blame for the current state of tension), she finds herself a small person in a big city, completely alone except for a cat whom she oddly calls Dusty. Syd, the next character she meets, gives her the name Kat, due to her four-legged companion.
Many characters shift in and out of focus during the course of the adventure, making it hard to find any empathy towards them. However, Kat remains endearing throughout. Her innocence, curiosity, and willingness to aid others despite any scorn give her qualities that keep players rooting for her. As puzzle pieces from her past start to fall into place, you're given just enough information that you'll want to find the next mission just to see another cutscene.
Although, don't expect many cinematics here, as Gravity Rush opts for the comic book approach, dishing out plot through a series of still scenes that the player swipes through using the touchscreen. It may not seem as dazzling, but this approach fits the game perfectly and is just one of the refreshing departures from the norm that can be found here.
The controls have to be the biggest flaw in this game, which is a shame because with some fine-tuning they could have been near perfect. The standard "move with the left stick, work the camera with the right" is an input style all gamers should be familiar with when navigating a three-dimensional space. However, since Gravity Rush is essentially a 360-degree experience, the movement and camera often become frustrating. Markers on the screen—as well as Kat's hair and scarf—always follow the true gravitational direction to alleviate some of the confusion when floating. But a manual lock-onto-enemies feature, keeping your target in sights, would have been a small addition with an enormous help. Also, the game has you swipe the screen to evade, which should have been a button input, and the speedy on-rails ability called Gravity Slide requires both thumbs on the touchscreen, which throws the camera control completely off. Using the rear touchpad for this would have solved the issue and could have been one of the better uses of the back panel I have seen.
But if you can adjust to the unorthodox control scheme, Hekseville is a robust city to explore. Citizens go about their daily lives; some will offer advice, while others offer tasks. Special challenge missions present a variety of diversions, from dispatching as many enemies as possible within a time limit to running obstacle courses through checkpoints, as well as various other minigames.
Your scores are ranked on a global leaderboard, and earning a bronze, silver, or gold medal will award you with precious gems. This currency is required to fix the damaged facilities of the city and unlock the challenges, but more importantly it plays into the game's RPG aspect. As you collect these gems you can purchase upgrades to all your abilities, such as stronger kicks and longer gravity gauges. They are capped at the beginning, but as your reputation grows, you can invest more levels in these skill upgrades. It's a simple but effective feature that will have you retrying challenges and scouring every face of every building for these purple jewels.