Gravity Rush is a game that is… a might confused about its intentions.
Gravity Rush is only available on Playstation Vita (currently owned by six people) and the Playstation 4 (currently only owned by jerks), so I’ll forgive you if you haven’t played it. In short, the gameplay of Gravity Rush is based on the magical skills of Kat and her cat (oh, I just got that), Dusty. Kat has the ability to twist the horizon to her will, so she can, at any given moment, “rotate” gravity so she can run up walls, across sewer ceilings, or just haplessly “fall up”. It’s a simple, easy to control mechanic, and it’s a testament to the designers that an entire city and all the “stages” contained therein work so well with Kat able to spider-crawl all over the city.
Oh, also, it’s fun as hell.
There has always been an unusual amount of debate over “sandbox games” (aka GTA clones) and whether or not it’s even possible to make a modern, city-based sandbox game and still be a good guy. Grand Theft Auto (3) set the standard with its rotating cast of psychopaths, and the likes of Saint’s Row refined the concept with superpowers and aliens (aliens make everything better), but even in games where you’re a “good guy”, you still kind of come off as less Robocop and more Judge Dredd (hi, Crackdown!). And, while it’s always fun to watch someone attempt to play GTA while obeying every traffic signal and only stealing cars when absolutely legally appropriate (huh?), nearly all of those games are based around “the fun is in the mayhem”. Heck, I’d argue that the absolute worst parts of any of those franchises are when you’re forced to follow the rules, and maybe not launch your date into the stratosphere just because she’s taking too damn long to get in the car.
Gravity Rush has a very GTA-esque setup with its four main “districts” that comprise one giant city, but you’re a law abiding citizen. And, while you can damage property, kick pedestrians, or “accidentally” gravity-hurl soldiers into the next zip code, there are no rewards for doing so. There’s no penalty, either, so you’re not going to summon a tank because you’re causing too much mischief. It’s just you, Kat, and some gems to collect that are mysteriously hanging upside down off that Space Needle-wannabe. The only “things to do” around town are complete missions, collect gems from weird places, and maybe try to discover a secret or two hidden around the nooks and crannies of the city. That’s it. No stand-offs with the police. No vehicle theft. There isn’t even a single weapon available beyond Kat’s own limbs (and maybe tossing a trash can around). This should get old fast.
Yet, I could “gravity rush” over this city for days.
It’s difficult to even try to put into words, but there is a simple joy in running all over Hekseville. And I do mean “running all over”, as I’m pretty sure I left Kat’s footprints on every last surface in town. From way down in the depths to the tippy top of that clock tower, Kat gets around. And there’s no penalty for being… shall we say… careless. Kat does not experience fall damage, and, presumably because her spine is made of some manner of jelly substance, there’s never a single complaint even when the gravity gauge inopportunely runs out while our heroine is a mile up. You even are safely deposited back on terra firma if you manage to fall off the edge of the world. This is essential to the game, because, if there were a penalty for “improper” gravity rushing, then you might carefully conserve those gravity powers and not, ya know, have fun with it. With very few penalties for falling (okay, it might be a pain to get back to where you were if you plummet particularly badly), you’re always encouraged to gravity rush around, and, yes, it’s a rush.
It’s just a shame the rest of the game doesn’t quite understand that.
There are two sides to Gravity Rush: the exploration and the combat. This is pretty normal for a video game, because I could describe, say, Super Metroid in exactly the same manner. You’re using a different skill set when you’re getting to Ridley than when you’re fighting Ridley, and, while there is some overlap, they’re very different experiences. Gravity Rush is no different, and, while the exploration of Gravity Rush is new and exciting, the combat is rote and, frankly, archaic. You’ve got a basic melee attack, a dodge roll, a jump kick, and a dash attack. Hm, we’re barely a step above Final Fight here. But you have gravity powers! And you can use ‘em to hover high in the sky, and then deliver a devastating dive kick. And… that’s about it. You have a few other gravity powers, but they’re all extremely limited by a sort of “magic meter” that will refill just in time for the battle to be over. So you’re stuck dive-kicking over and over again, which is fun for like five seconds, but if I wanted to play a game that was dive kicking all the time, I’d just play some dive kick based game like, I don’t know, Street Fighter.
Oh, and did I mention that there are a number of flying and “tall” monsters that absolutely require all dive kick, all the time? Yeah, it gets old.
And, unfortunately, Gravity Rush’s combat leaves such a sour taste in my mouth that I made this chart describing my time playing the main campaign:
It wouldn’t even be so bad if there wasn’t so much of an emphasis on bosses and monster mobs. Or if the bosses/monsters worked as intended, like, at all! I can’t tell you how many times I attempted a dive kick on some random monster, and somehow rammed into their underside, or some random bump on their model, or something, and, whoops, no, Kat is just hovering there doing zero damage for no reason now. There’s even a special “drill kick” homing attack that is really powerful… but half the time I used it I got stuck on a tree or a wing or whatever, and the attack petered out to nothing. That’s always fun! Let’s make the worst parts of this game take even longer!
And it’s a damn shame, because replaying the city “free” bits for this article, I was reminded just how overwhelmingly fun this game can be. Like a good Metroid or Mario game, there’s joy just in playing around, not necessarily working toward the next goal, but shooting around this enormous playground and enjoying your time in this world. And then there are the missions that, overwhelmingly, suck. Or, even if they don’t completely suck, they at least drag down the fun to a monotonous level. And that’s no fun at all.
So, hey, people that made Gravity Rush? You made an amazing, innovative game here… How about you let me play that?
FGC #247 Gravity Rush
- System: Playstation Vita and Playstation 4. The PS4 version contains all the additional Vita DLC, for the record.
- Number of players: It’s Kat against the world. Or with the world. Depends on the day.
- Port-o-Call: I own this game for both systems (yes, I’m a jerk), and, frankly, I don’t think I could go back to the Vita version. Everything feels so… cramped. This game kind of needs the widescreen, movie-theatre treatment, because, seriously, when you’re shifting the horizon, it should be life-sized.
- Favorite city division: Who decided to put the red light district next to the largest school in the city? A genius, that’s who!
- Aesthetics Corner: Is there an art book for this game? There should be, because, damn, I could look at Gravity Rush art for at least 200 pages or so. That said, whether it’s deliberate or not, I feel like the first area of this game is its ugliest, which provides a poor first impression. Or maybe I just don’t like yellows…
- Cats always land on their feet: Oh. Just got that, too.
- Did you know? This game was the brainchild of Keiichiro Toyama, previously best known for Silent Hill. However, according to interviews, he had the idea for Gravity Rush well before the creation of Silent Hill, and it was partially inspired by the comics of Moebius. If you’re unfamiliar with anything in this bullet point, please check out the output of both of these men immediately.
- Would I play again: I would play the “completed save” again, but I’m not so sure about the actual game-game. I’m even looking sideways at those side missions…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruis’n USA for the N64! Let’s see the sights at 90 MPH! Please look forward to it!