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Gravity Rush Impressions – A Tragedy

I wasn’t planning on picking up Gravity Rush, the first retail game for the PS Vita that isn’t a port, an extension of a franchise, or otherwise forgettable. It’s a game- and brand- designed from the ground up for the floundering platform. It leverages the handheld’s strengths while presenting a full “console” experience, as was promised by the Vita’s press copy. I tried the demo Monday night, I was at Gamestop Tuesday morning with a pile of trade-ins, and I left with a copy of the game.

Here’s the rub. This Gravity Rush, like Vita itself, is doomed. It is destined to be underplayed, under-noticed, and undersold. But also like the Vita, it’s not likely to be underappreciated by those who experience it because it’s a really, really damn good game for a really, really damn good platform. Sony’s continued mishandling of the Vita (the company apparently forgot about it at E3) is no more evident than in its failure to release Gravity Rush as the flagship launch title instead of a scaled down, watered down version of Uncharted.

Gravity Rush isn’t a mold-breaking, lightning-in-a-bottle title. It doesn’t create a new genre and its ambitions do not lie in telling a Bioshock-level story. But what is is, and where it innovates, is in bringing together modest ambitions to deliver a supremely solid, highly stylized game that has “cult smash” written all over it. This is a game very much in the old Sega Dreamcast mold, another possible Jet Set Radio. And then there’s that whole gravity shifting thing, which feels completely fresh, novel, and most importantly fun. If you’re whining about how all “they” make anymore is military shooters, here’s one for you.

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It’s a superhero origin story game. It’s a surprisingly focused open world one. It’s an action brawler with an upgrade system. It’s a puzzle-platformer and there’s some stealth gameplay. It has that orb thing from Crackdown. And it’s wrapped up in a drop-dead gorgeous comics style that’s as much Marvel as it is Manga. The young protagonist would fit right in with the X-Men.

I’ve only played for about two hours but I love it. It’s dazzled me, it’s delighted me in that short time. Not many games these days do that since so many focus on the Blockbuster Moment, this-world-is-shit angst, or boo-ya murder fantasy. There was one point last night where I was trying to collect these gems and I was floating in zero-G free fall and I was twisting and turning to see them, using the Vita’s gyroscope. I was on my couch with the Vita over my head, eyes toward the ceiling. It was immersive, and the control was dead on so the illusion wasn’t broken by implementation. It’s been done before in other IOS and 3DS games, but nowhere has it been more effective. The thrill of empowerment when you use the gravity ability to walk up walls or fall into the sky is awesome.

But it’s not the same sense of badass power that the Arkham games give you. It’s more like you’re a kid, like Peter Parker, discovering your abilities and how to use them. The first hour of the game is clumsy and awkward. You blow off out-of-bounds often. You fall. You get disoriented. You crash into statues and miss kicks. It makes sense because you’re learning. Some critics have already complained about these elements, of course. They’re missing the point.

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I’ve still got 10 to 12 hours to go with the game by accounts. I almost want to stop playing it now in case it becomes repetitive, boring, or loses focus in sidequests during the middle game. Right now, I feel like I’ve played a truly new game and not just for the Vita. Refreshing, joyful, and passionately made games are rare these days and I almost don’t want to spoil it.

A zillion people will play some puzzle-platformer designed by an arrogant ass that claims that Japanese design is dead. But the number of people that will ever get to play Gravity Rush is likely exponentially smaller due its appearance- and in fact, its dependence- on a poorly adopted platform. It doesn’t help that it’s a product marketed by a company that is clueless as to how to sell it or to make consumer want it. Is it worth buying a Vita for Gravity Rush? Hell no. But if you have one (or access to one), this game is as good an argument for the underachieving handheld as anything else. The tragedy is that it may turn out to be one of the best games of the year on any platform.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

14 thoughts to “Gravity Rush Impressions – A Tragedy”

  1. The scale is being tipped more heavily in favor of purchasing a Vita at some point, but I’m still not there yet. Gravity Rush and the opportunity to play as a female Assassin so far do not justify the expense. Buying such a new platform is tricky business, and I am old enough that I will no longer take it on faith that there will eventually be enough games to justify a purchase; despite my love of Zelda, for example, I am not convinced the Wii was a good buy, though I hear Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story may change my mind on that point. It is definitely unfortunate, because those screens are quite arresting; a shame to miss such a lovely game.

  2. I’m fairly certain I will own a Vita by the end of this week. It’s a shame so many people are dismissive of the Vita as a platform. As far as I can tell all Sony did was build the best portable gaming system ever and all they’ve gotten in return is venom.

    1. It’s not fair, because the thing has been out for three months and- like the 3DS- it’s been damned by the press and the consumers.

      That said, Sony isn’t exactly stumping for it either. But in some ways, this is Sony’s SOP. They did it with the PS3 and PSP as well. It’s almost like they throw something out and just wait for it to build momentum.

      The Vita’s library is actually pretty strong, it’s just that there’s not enough Gravity Rushes. I love Mortal Kombat and FIFA, but those are ports.

      Best portable ever? Hardware wise, absolutely. It just needs four or five more games like this and it’ll be cinched up.

  3. What timing. I was just fighting with myself as to whether or not I should pick up Gravity Rush on my way home from work tonight. I had hummed and hawwed for about a week about it. I’m pretty sure now it’s a safe bet and I will likely own it withing an hour or two of having posted this.

    I still love my Vita. The mutant game was great platforming for a fantastic price and Escape Plan is pretty interesting too. I never played an Uncharted game before so it was nice to try that series and Mortal Kombat on Vita is amazing. I still think it’s a great deal and I’m really looking forward to the Assassins Creed that comes out for it later this year.. as well as Little Big Planet since that is another series I’ve never played. The unit itself is amazing and has incredible potential. I’d love to see more development for it but right now I’m pretty patient.

  4. Nice write-up; I’m not very far in … saving it for the weekend when work calms down.

    I think the biggest issue with the Vita, is that a very loud vocal minority are PO’ed about the memory card situation (proprietary and of course the cost). I think Sony made some poor decisions in this respect, but let’s face it, when did Sony not have a proprietary memory card for one of their systems?

    Anyway – if Sony can lower the price, either directly or with better bundles with bigger memory cards, get more games out the door along the lines of unique Gravity Rush experiences, and actually push the system … then maybe the Vita stands a chance.

  5. Like you, I am enjoying the hell out of this game, for all of the same reason.

    I do disagree with the E3 Vita comment, though. Sony may not have spent a lot of time on the Vita in the presser, but the Vita row at the Sony booth was completely filled, except for one poor unit they were showing PSOne classics on. Sly Cooper on the Vita looks identical to the PS3 version and will be my p,at form of choice. Jet Set Radio looked great and I played this awesome rhythm-RTS called Orgaryhthm.

    Compared the pathetic showing of the 3DS at Nintendo’s booth where the only way to see the 3DS lineup was to play a unit physically attached to a Nintendo booth lady, the Vita showing was positively awesome. Granted, that’s not a fair comparison, but I saw a bunch of good things for the Vita to be excited for. Hell, I’d even be tempted to play the Smash Bros. rip-off on it.

    1. Thanks for the perspective on the E3 issue- I was going by what we non-attending laymen saw from the presser.

      I’m REALLY interested in Soul Survivor…there is some good-looking stuff on the way.

      1. Is there enough good looking stuff on the way to make someone like me who is on the fence about buying the vita make the plunge? I really want to play Legend of heroes- Trails in the sky, and gravity rush sounds amazing. Your thoughts on if it is enough to warrant a purchase?

  6. I’m desperately waiting for my copy to turn up tomorrow. I agree with Barnes though, I absolutely love my Vita, having had it for a week and a half now, it’s a wonderful, functional, and classy machine. Easily the best portable device I’ve ever owned. But it needs more Gravity Rushes. I don’t regret buying it, not yet at least, but come on Sony, back it. It deserves it.

  7. I love my Vita. But, like Mr. Barnes, I want more games! I can’t believe I have had it since February and have had little or no urge to buy a new game yet. But I think the tech is great and the games I have I really enjoy. I’m trying out Disgaea 3 now from Gamefly, but this game sounds great too. I don’t mind ports or sequels, as I don’t really play that many games.

  8. Barnes are you still liking it? I was in the same boat as you after two hours.

    I just finished chapter 10 and if this wasn’t on the Vita I wouldn’t bother continuing.

    1. Really? I’m only on Chapter 6 or 7 (I think), I haven’t really hit the doldrums yet. I sort of put it down for a while and was going to pick it up again this week. Does it just run out of steam or does it start repeating itself?

      1. I feel like it is super repetitive at this point. Though I was feeling that at about the point you are I think. the only thing I am enjoying is the boss battles and the traversal, and at the point I am right now they completely ruin the traversal. I think it’s only for this segment but it’s incredibly annoying.

        It is reminding me a lot of Assassins Creed 1. They had one cool idea and a great style/setting then decided to make a game around it without expanding on those core things at all.

  9. There is noticeably a lot of money to know about this.
    I suppose youve made particular nice points in functions also.

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