Gravity Rush’s physics-defying gameplay attracted a following when it arrived on Vita in 2012, and now it’s found a second wind on PlayStation 4 in a remastered version that both looks and plays better than the original. It has updated models and textures, runs twice as fast as the Vita version, and the larger TV format makes the details and scale of the world more apparent than they were on the Vita’s modest five-inch screen.
Gravity Rush offers an intriguing lead character, Kat, who can manipulate gravity at will. This power allows her to float, walk on ceilings, carry heavy objects, and fall in any direction–almost as if she can fly. You take control of her after she wakes up with amnesia in the whimsical city-in-the-sky, Hekseville, which was torn apart by a nearby gravitational disturbance, separating neighborhoods from one another and introducing alien-like enemies known as Nevi. Hekseville can be dangerous as a result, but it’s also expansive and chock full of architectural features and hidden collectibles, making it a veritable playground with Kat’s powers at your fingertips. It also bears a vibrant, steampunk-ish aesthetic that offers plenty of visual splendor to take in while hurdling through the sky, at times resembling the works of Studio Ghibli.
Kat and a likeable cast of NPCs keep you firmly engaged with Hekseville’s current events, big and small alike. Kat’s amnesia isn’t a novel plot device, but the way she handles it endears you to her. Where a reasonable person may succumb to confusion, Kat finds her footing quickly, realizing that she can use her powers to help those in need, happily slipping on the guise of a superhero. She earns a reputation around town, and is quickly called away from small acts of kindness to tend to Hekseville’s grander problems, which puts her toe-to-toe with high-powered military officials, a band of missing kids who resemble The Lost Boys from Peter Pan, and other individuals with super-powered abilities. Kat keeps a positive demeanor, but she’s also quick to acknowledge when people are being greedy, odd, or otherwise abnormal, which paints a better picture of who she is and where she stands, both as an outlier and as a member of a quirky metropolitan society.
Kat’s abilities undoubtedly carry Gravity Rush, offering an experience that’s similar to Mario’s abilities in parts of the Super Mario Galaxy games. It’s practically simple in execution, but difficult to master; tap a button to free yourself from gravity, aim the camera, and hit the same button again to direct gravity and send Kat forward. She can remain in a state of gravitational-flux as long as her power–indicated by a meter–lasts, but by exploring the world and collecting gems, she can cash-in and upgrade numerous aspects of her skillset. Some upgrades make your life easier, either by granting you greater strength or more time to correct a miscalculated trajectory, for example.
Though you start as an awkward superhero with limited range, speed, and strength, you find your footing as time goes on, and using your powers becomes second-nature in short order. More than sheer experience, it’s the variety of scenarios that you encounter which inform your understanding of Kat’s abilities and limitations. You do spend a lot of time falling in a straight line at first, but there are sections that call for more complex maneuvers later on, such as winding through dense city streets or gliding along the surface of ramps in a manner similar to snowboarding. Where you may have faltered and crash-landed by accident in the early hours, you gracefully zip through the air and mitigate mistakes quicker after a few hours in Kat’s shoes.
The way that Kat’s journey plays out masks the game’s inherent learning curve well, freeing you up to pay attention to Hekseville’s attractive architecture and vistas. Gravity Rush is filled with captivating sights, and it utilizes a charming art style that faintly resembles Hayao Miyazaki’s (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke) illustrative style. You don’t spend a lot of time on the ground–an effect of falling in love with Kat’s aerial exploits. But you do get to experience Hekseville’s ornate structures from on high, clipping its tallest buildings, walking upside-down on the floating-city’s underbelly, and gawking at dreamy silhouettes against the city’s orange, green, and blue skies. These instances are better now than before, with the remastering process adding new geometry, sharper textures, and increasing the resolution to 1080p and the frame rate to 60fps. All of these improvements make Gravity Rush Remastered the definitive version of the game, and playing it on a TV allows you to take in the scale of the world’s open spaces far better than on Vita’s five-inch display.
Tumbling through the air and witnessing the world around you are persistent joys, and it helps that you venture to otherworldly dimensions from time to time, each offering their own wonders.
Tumbling through the air and witnessing the world around you are persistent joys, and it helps that you venture to otherworldly dimensions from time to time, each offering their own wonders. But the missions you undertake, be they story missions or optional challenge missions, fail to trigger excitement. You regularly have to navigate to specific points in Hekseville–which are always pinpointed on your map and in the HUD–to obtain an item or fight a group of enemies, and that’s about it.
Early combat in Gravity Rush kicks off on the ground, where Kat can combo into enemies with a series of kicks, and evade incoming attacks with a quick burst of speed. You quickly realize, however, that you are more effective when attacking from mid-air, dive-kicking into enemies’ soft-spots. This attack, like your movement abilities, takes time to grasp, and the game gradually introduces bigger and stronger enemies to ease you into its ways. Unfortunately, beyond introducing greater danger, bigger enemies are handled the same: with a series of dive-kicks. You have access to a few special attacks that are tied to a cooldown meter, but these just help you get your job done faster, offering little in the way of newfound satisfaction in combat. There are a small number of boss encounters that mix things up a little, offering opponents that look and behave differently than standard enemies, but, again, they call for the same tactics as a regular battle, and thus do little to elevate Gravity Rush’s combat as a whole.
When you’re enraptured with Gravity Rush’s mechanics, world, and characters, time flies by. Even though the common tasks you undertake aren’t original, the game as a whole offers an experience that’s mesmerizing, thanks in large part to how easy it is to control Kat’s power over gravity. Because of this, it’s a bit of a letdown when the game ends. Sure, there are basic side-missions and challenges to undertake around the world, in addition to a plethora of hidden collectibles, but the story that guided you along a path filled with new, wondrous opportunities comes to a screeching halt without a clear resolution in sight. As we now know, Gravity Rush 2 is in production and will continue the tale told here, but that fact doesn’t make up for the unsatisfactory ending.
Gravity Rush comes off as formulaic at times, but it’s also a wonderful joyride that’s been enhanced by a generous remastering effort that makes it feel right at home on PS4. Despite its problems, Gravity Rush is an adventure worth taking not just because there’s hardly anything like it, but because it leverages its distinct gameplay to great effect, freeing you from the hold of gravity in a world worth exploring.