The relatively massive amount of hype behind Gravity Rush made me do something I don't often do - avoid the demo at all costs. So much had been written about the gravity-altering gameplay that I didn't want the demo to cloud my judgment of the full game. I wanted to come into that with as fresh a perspective as possible and I'm glad I did.
The organic flow of the game from story to gameplay works really well, as does the logical progression of everything. Gravity Rush begins with Kat waking up in an unknown area, with a strange cat that is seemingly talking to her...oh and she can control gravity as well. Most people wake up tired and cranky, she wakes up bewildered and with magical powers. Sometimes, life isn't fair. It isn't all that fair to her, actually, since the town she's in is largely confused by gravity-shifters. They might also be really impressed by shiny things, but that isn't touched on in the game. The storyline starts off a bit confusing, then crystalizes into something quite compelling. This is the kind of game you'll want to play through from start to finish fairly quickly without a long break because of the gameplay's learning curve and the storyline being something you'll want to focus on.
The gravity-altering mechanic is the most jarring element of the gameplay, so let's start with the things that are more familiar in the platforming and combat. Combat is fairly simplistic and usually relies on you just hitting the square button to kick or do some jump kicks. Later on, you'll learn slides, sliding kicks, and a sweet mid-air drill attack that are easy to use. There are also boss-finishing touch attacks, and they work a billion times better than the similar idea from the DS Castlevanias. Instead of having to do an elaborate Simon Says sequence, you just need to hit a blue button visible when you're within range of the enemy. You're also able to use Kat's powers to create a field of energy around stuff in the area to chuck at enemies which works reasonably well, but isn't available at all times and doesn't feel as precise as say using a gun in Uncharted.
Shifting gravity is done with the R button, and allows you to fling yourself towards places you need to be, whether it's to collect gems to power-up Kat, or launch yourself at enemies with a slick kick. Aiming is done with either the right stick or by moving the Vita around. While moving the system around allows for faster and more precise changes, I found the view with the system tilted to be a bit odd, so the right stick worked better for me there. The entire shifting of gravity mechanic is slightly complex, and requires you to send her airborne with R and then zoom towards your destination with the left stick. You can stop in mid-flight with L, which is where the complexity comes in because you'll have to fight in mid-air and also stop quickly to land perfectly on platforms to collect more gems.
There's definitely a learning curve to manipulating gravity, and sadly the camera can sometimes get too jittery for its own good. It can spin behind an object, leaving you unable to see Kat and thus getting thrown off course. It can also be easy to lose track of where you are, making aiming at enemies with the mid-flight kicks and drill attacks difficult. Sliding around using the touch screen and gyroscope works really well, but swiping the screen to evade attacks doesn't seem nearly as responsive as it should be. You can get up from the evasion into your default standing pose and it'll still take you about half a second before a swipe will register - whether enemies are hurling attacks your way or not.
The seamless flow between the story comic scenes ending and actual missions starting impresses me a lot. You've got story missions to solve to figure out just what's going on, and side missions that focus on the denizins of Heksville. Everything you do to help them gains their trust, which not only prevents them from coming at you with pitchforks and torches, but also gives you gems. These missions vary from really fun races and time attacks, to glorified fetch quests. To my absolute astonishment, I didn't mind doing them. I usually despite fetch quests, largely due to N64 ones completely burning me out to them, but here, the fetching is pretty reasonable. Nothing takes a long time to do, and within five or ten minutes, you can find yourself with a healthy supply of gems.
The longest part of the process is usually getting from Point A to B, which can be done on-foot, which I'd recommend for the first few missions just to learn the town layout (there's no on-screen map, but the Select button calls one up), via flying around which allows you to get to places faster at the expense of usually zooming through and missing the layout, or you can unlock new warp portals throughout town and get to landmarks near your desired location. The train allows you to go back and forth while also earning gems that line the track, and gives you some jaw-dropping views of the environment.
The cel-shaded graphics are fairly impressive, and the mixture of shading with a more realistic world setting reminds me of Crackdown. Gravity Rush has a far more compelling story though, and much smoother animations. There are some remarkable views as well, and it's clear that the developers wanted to make use of the Vita's large screen to craft as cinematic an experience as possible. The comic book-style cutscenes are beautiful, but slightly hampered by being motion-sensitive since a slight move of the system changes their perspective - and the animation for it is fairly jarring.
Gravity Rush's soundtrack runs the gamut from peaceful classical-style fare to exciting jazz with a bit rock thrown in for good measure. It's really enjoyable to listen to in the game and some of it is stuff I'd definitely like to hear outside of it (so make with that PSN soundtrack, Sony). The voice acting is quite good and despite this being a story-driven game, doesn't become overbearing. Only the things that really need to be said are spoken aloud, with the rest going to dialogue bubbles in cutscenes. It's a different way to do things, but it works well and the cast did a great job with their characters.
Gravity Rush has some rough edges in it, but the game as a whole is incredible. The storyline is intriguing with some interesting characters, and the scope of the world is pretty remarkable for a portable adventure. Sadly, some control hitches make me wish this was just on a console where they couldn't shoe-horn in some functionality that doesn't work well for the game. Thankfully, there aren't many problems, and they're largely negated by the amazing graphics and catchy soundtrack. Any Vita owners longing for a really exciting adventure-platformer should snatch it up as soon as possible.
This review is based on a retail copy of Gravity Rush/i> for the PlayStation Vita provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.