"Truly The Kat's Meow"
The struggles of the Japanese game industry have proven both crisis and opportunity for the nation's greatest export: the WJT ("Weird Japanese Thing", pronounced "widget") genre. These are games that draw inspiration from a uniquely Japanese sensibility, and they move the player into territory so absurd that it couldn't have been conceived by sober minds. Examples of exceptional WJT games include Wario Ware, Katamari Damacy, Patapon, and now, Gravity Rush. However, not only is the new title a great bizarre game, but its unusual nature makes it the first title to truly utilize the Vita's exotic features, proving the new system's potential.
Gravity Rush casts the player as Kat, a girl who knows herself as well as we do (as in not at all). Her quest to regain her lost memory starts when she meets a magic cat named Dusty, who gives her the power to control her personal gravity. The game is designed entirely around this ability, allowing players to float in mid-air, walk on walls, and fall in any direction at the push of a button. Comparisons to Super Mario Galaxy may be inevitable, but Gravity Rush owes just as much of its design to Grand Theft Auto (believe it or not). Players travel a through an open-ended city and search for various missions, extra challenges, and gossip. The story does a great job making Kat a believable young woman and showing her attempts to make a life in the present, in addition to uncovering her past and saving the future from the gooey Nevi monsters.
If there's one thing that's immediately apparent about Gravity Rush, it's that it looks unlike any other game. The series has a unique cel-shaded look, but it contrasts its colorful people with a rusted-out labyrinth of urban decay. The buildings have as much a character as anyone else, and the ability to control gravity lets players see them from literally any perspective. The sound is similarly impressive at building an atmosphere, with an eerie soundtrack that draws on multiple instruments (even the fiddle). Even the cutscenes are unique, portrayed as slightly animated comic book panels a la Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. The only downside to the presentation is a lack of English voice acting, but the limited Japanese voice clips over subtitled dialogue don't present too much of a problem. If anything, the lack of spoken English language asserts Gravity Rush's WJT status.
All of this wouldn't matter as much if the gameplay weren't entertaining, but fortunately, Gravity Rush is as unique and fun as it looks. The ability to redirect gravity at will gives players a sense of three-dimensional gameplay unlike any other title. The Vita's dual analog sticks make controlling such a game possible, but the gyroscopic camera controls allow players to easily correct their view, removing the frustrations that could have easily plagued Gravity Rush.
The game itself starts out with a slow, deliberate pace, and while the tutorial missions may become a drag, it's understandable that the developer would want to ensure players are familiar with the gameplay mechanics. The later missions, especially the optional challenges, become much more difficult, and most gamers may have trouble adapting to such a unique challenge. Fighting monsters, racing from one part of town to another, and other typical tasks become unfamiliar territory when the gravity itself shifts at any given moment.
Gravity Rush may be the first true "killer app" for the PlayStation Vita. It is unlike any other game, and its design is tailored exclusively towards Sony's new handheld. The flaws in the design, such as the slow start and the lack of voice acting, are ultimately negligible in the final judgment of the complete product. This is a game unlike any other, even other WJT games. Anyone who's ever dreamed of flying should check it out, because Kat's mastery of the air is indisputed.
GameDynamo's Score for Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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