A careening, scatterbrained, warm-hearted open world adventure game, Gravity Rush frequently calls to mind artfully hip Japanese action games like Jet Set Radio and El Shaddai, while simultaneously filtering their playful sensibility through the art stylings of French comics.
Set in a baroque, steampunk world of rusty copper and bright magenta tones, the game is visually distinctive with a heavy, striking sense of place. Heroine Kat (Kitten in the original Japanese version) is capable of controlling gravity – a touch of the right shoulder button frees her from her moorings, and a second touch propels her at speed in the direction you’re targeting. The sense of freedom this induces is heady and intoxicating in a sub-genre that all-too-often contains a large amount of drudgerous hoofing from one destination to another.
Here, getting about is simply a matter of flinging Kat into the air then chucking her as fast as you can in the direction of your goal, frequently ricocheting off of walls, lampposts and alarmed pedestrians as she goes. Occasionally she will accidentally catch passers-by in her slipstream and drag them hundreds of feet in the air, from where they inevitably plummet to their death on the cobbles below. Apparently her other superpower is manslaughter.
While the game’s mission structure is fairly pedestrian – follow the marker, beat up some monsters, occasionally carry something – a combination of charm and winning controls carries it through. Combat is a simple, one-button affair, but the different attributes of attacks combined with anti-gravity and a dodge manoeuvre activated by swiping the screen give fights a pleasingly raucous tacticality that ensures they don’t outstay their welcome.
Meanwhile, the game’s slightly daft story is parcelled out in attractive, hand-drawn comic scenes that are clearly attempting to evoke the work of the recently-departed genius of French comics Jean Giraud/Moebius, though they tend more often to resemble less inspired pulpish illustrators like Largo Winch’s Philippe Franq. The game world, whose design contains hints of Weimar Germany, Victorian London and the Soviet Union (complete with wicked mayor who looks like Lenin), makes for an engaging setting that lends interest to the missions even when the basic meat of their gameplay seems not to offer much that’s all that new.
It may be, however, that the developers have realised something important in grounding their liberated approach to player movement in such familiar gameplay structures. When the character herself is so utterly disruptive to the traditional interactions of adventure games, when she can fling herself two hundred metres into the sky at the touch of a button, or blast into a lightning fast skid that propels her from one end of a street to another in seconds, when, essentially, she is under no obligation even to obey the laws of physics, perhaps offering tested and familiar gameplay goals is the smarter choice.
Either way, Gravity Rush is adorable, generous and entirely enjoyable.
Graphics: 5/5 - Rendered in the cel-shaded style that is now seemingly obligatory for games that wish to associate themselves with comics art, the game’s unusual and occasionally unsettling colour palette and distinctive art-deco look are very pleasant to look at, while the main character is a great creation – slightly goofy, charming,and cool and instantly recognisable.
Sound: 4/5 - Jaunty, Parisian-flavoured music suggests roguish gentlemen of independent means plying a coquettish maidservant with cognac in the lobby of a risque cabaret theatre at quarter past two in the morning. All dialogue is spoken in a nonsense collection of random syllables, rather like Prime Minister’s Questions.
Gameplay: 4/5 - The sense of freedom is intoxicating, both in the sense of making you giddily happy and also in occasionally causing a thumping headache. Battles are liable to spill up walls and onto roofs (Kat, being able to control gravity, can stick to any surface) but this freewheeling quality can also lead to prolonged periods of whizzing past an enemy who dodges at the last second, then scrambling to re-orient your perspective before you get hit. However, subtle cues (the direction of Kat’s hair and scarf, for instance) do an excellent job of conveying which which way up you really are and so confusion is largely absent outside of battles.
Longevity: 4/5 - The city itself contains numerous challenge arenas (obstacle courses, races, timed battles) which provide a more focused score-attack experience than that found in the main storyline, which can be polished off in around six to eight hours.
Overall: 4 out of 5
A joyful, creative and loveable experience all round, Gravity Rush is a welcome addition to Vita’s rather sparse software library, all the better for not being a port or a franchise entry and for making creative use of the machine’s hardware features. With its brave and slightly dizzy heroine and a setting gently fizzing with sozzled European elegance it is also a welcome break from the twin polarities of growling American army man-shooters trying to stop Russian communazis from banning freedom or something and painfully earnest JRPGs about studious teenage boys with silly hair learning how to be a hero and the value of friendship. It is unselfconsciously joyful and infected with the thrill of discovery and plain knockabout fun.