As I played through Gravity Rush, time and again I found myself thinking of my time with Spider-Man 2. A strange title to connect with on the surface, but I enjoyed that movie adaptation for how it nailed the thrill of exploration more so than it did combat. And I come away from Gravity Rush with a similar enjoyment – traversal is an absolute joy, and I loved my experience with the game because of it. The wonky combat and storytelling flubs, however, keep it from being as pleasing a title as it could be.
The Spider-Man connection does not end with navigation. Gravity Rush is a superhero origin story, make no mistake about that. Its protagonist, Kat, may not be in a bright spandex uniform – though her clothing is certainly attention-grabbing – but the narrative has all the makings of a classic hero tale. The amnesic girl falls from the sky and wakes up in the town of Hekseville only to now possess the power to manipulate gravity. With the mysterious glowing cat Dusty at her side, Kat ventures out into the city’s sections in various levels of disarray to discover her past and mend the many predicaments plaguing the town.
Kat is a surprisingly endearing character despite the clichés intermittently tossed into her tale. Amnesia, unnecessarily revealing outfits and a needless shower scene aside, her interactions are comical with dialogue that is sarcastic and self-aware, and it’s easy to become invested in her plight. Connection with the blond-haired lead is essential, because the world falls into chaos from the moment she wakes up. Red and black globs of energy known as “nevi” have begun to wreak havoc on Hekseville, and Kat appears to be the only one crazy enough to tackle the threat.
The story takes Kat through the city in the sky’s main districts, far below the surface, and even to another plane of existence. The story is winding and introduces several lofty concepts, but is kept grounded and fascinating by viewing it through Kat’s eyes. I enjoyed each revelation that explored more of this strange town, its inhabitants, and even the world’s creators, and the mythology balances the large and small scope well. Unfortunately it falters on one key aspect – Kat herself.
The game’s unsatisfactory ending provides no resolution for the questions raised about Kat. Clearly the first part in a larger story, I can understand wanting to leave plot threads hanging, but at times Rush looks as if it will explore her missing identity only to ignore these mysteries for the more immediate story. The few branching storylines of the nevi invasion come together nicely, but the abruptness of the conclusion leaves a lasting blemish on an otherwise intriguing story.
While the culmination of events may cause some frustration, a major aspect of Kat’s character translates into the gameplay’s greatest joy. Kat can alter gravity and make the walls her floor. By targeting the side of a building and tapping the “R” button twice, Kat hurtles toward the surface until it becomes the ground on which she stands. There is a certain thrill that comes with falling upwards, leaping from building to building as the world rushes passed Kat. Mastering the technique takes some time, but once a player catches on to its smaller details, walking will look positively antiquated. And the presentation surrounding the gravity shifts help to make the experience more visceral. The first tap of the shoulder button causes Kat to float a few feet above the ground, taking anyone close by with her into the air. Her scarf and hair whip with the wind as she flies through the sky, and depending on the length of her fall, will crash and tumble to the ground. These minor touches all contribute to a sense of exploration that I have never experienced on a handheld.
And there is even an incentive to soaring to each roof and below each floating building. Purple gems littered around Hekseville can be collected to improve Kat’s attributes and abilities. The changes feel incremental at best, but it is undeniably addicting to find these treasures strewn throughout the world, even if the draw distance can make this an occasional annoyance.