The presence of Keiichiro Toyama, famous for his work on the Silent Hill and Siren franchises, is welcome in the launch window of PS Vita. Seemingly breaking away from his horror roots, Tomaya serves as creative director on Gravity Rush, a game that allows players to reject the rules of gravity itself in the palms of their hands.
Kat awakes with no memory of recent events, plus an enviable ability to defy the laws of physics and play with her centre of gravity at will. Struggling to come to terms with her confusing situation, she chases after a similarly science-denying cat in the search for answers. All she discovers instead is more confusion, in the forms of an air-hopping lady in black and grotesque beetle-like beasts, as well as some handy latent martial arts abilities.
The first section of Gravity Rush’s demo focuses on the abstract movement mechanic. Though Kat can run, jump and kick as per the norm, a tap of the R shoulder button unhooks her from the leash of gravity. From there a large reticule in the screen’s centre is used to target Kat’s proposed propulsion, adjusted using either the right analogue stick or Vita’s Sixaxis motion control. Hitting R again will send Kat flying in the direction of the cursor until she comes into contact with the desired surface, which becomes her new temporary base of gravity until she’s either sent jetting off again or gravity is returned to normal with L.
Within seconds Kat can go from running around a town square like any other person to sprinting up the side of a skyscraper, scaling obstacles of any height with the greatest of ease. Kat can also be stopped in mid-air with a juggle of the shoulder buttons; for example, hitting L to send her plummeting before tapping R once more to leave her hanging.
It’s a fascinating gameplay device that makes for a fun experience, but it may require a small amount of mind-bending upfront to get the most out of it, as it’s not quite as effortless as Kat’s movements imply. When disobeying gravity in mid-air, Kat does not halt dead — she floats, her whole body waving up and down slightly, which at first is slightly disorientating combined with the upside-down, back-to-front environments that result from the gravity shifts. While it works well after mental alterations have been made, those with twitchy hands will want to watch out as even the slightest shift of Vita will alter the reticule’s position, which can lead to targets being entirely missed initially. A careful mix of motion and analogue stick aiming helps, using one as a broad aiming method and the other for final adjustments.
No sooner has movement been picked up than enemies begin to appear and Kat’s karate instincts kick in. The creatures, overgrown insects adorned with fragile, glowing pink domes, creep up walls as well as across the floors, and so simple ground-based leg wallops alternate with gravity-enhanced glances. When airborne it’s necessary to, in the same way as surface switching, centre an enemy’s weakpoint in view and deliver a bulb-breaking blow with a push of Square. If a monster should get too close, a swipe across the front screen allows Kat to dodge out of harm’s way.
If standard movement alone had potential for confusion, prepare for battle. It’s satisfying but again requires some training, enemy movement adding an extra factor to consider when targeting. It can lead to missed attacks and subsequent collisions with surfaces, shifting the gravity unintentionally and changing the viewpoint bewilderingly. It has to be said that a second playthrough, having learned its systems, was far less troublesome than the first. The demonstration concluded with a gigantic shadowy creature that needed to be hit once on either side of the bonce and once underneath its strange skirt-like tentacle array.
Gravity Rush is beautiful, presented with manga-style visuals and bright, pastel-coloured skies that contrast highly with the grey of the city’s buildings and the greenish-brown of its rubbled pavements. In addition to cut scenes, storyboards also show up between chapters to tell the tale. Panels are flicked between with the front touch-screen, and each can be viewed from different angles by tilting the system for a pseudo-3D effect, the flat 2D characters appearing as if in a diorama. The audio impresses too, delivering a huge surround sound that envelopes right around the player.
Though it’s not the simplest game to pick up and play immediately, Gravity Rush has potential to soar up and stand out in PS Vita’s star-studded launch line-up. While it's very obvious that the core mechanic was only used simply in the demo, it’ll be exciting to see where the rest of the game goes.