My PS Now subscription is nearly at its end, having to a substantial degree kept me sane for the past 12 months. I’ve played, and replayed, some cracking games on it, and it’s been a blast. But to be brutally honest, the content has got a bit… samey. I’ve got a dozen or so games on disk, all of which are worthy of a replay at some point, plus a multitude of other entertainment options. So I’ve decided not to bother renewing my subscription when it expires.
As such, I didn’t want to embark on another 100+ hour epic for my last game, only to find myself rushing to complete it before time ran out. I wanted something fun, self – contained, and not too long. I began and then abandoned half a dozen games at the more casual end of the spectrum (not my usual fare) before stumbling on the remastered 2012 title Gravity Rush.
The game starts with a nameless heroine falling from the sky, yet landing unharmed in a small enclosed garden, where she meets a small black cat. Terry was sat next to me as I embarked on this game, and promptly declared that it was the best game ever, on account of said cat, and that at all costs I must continue. Right, well that’s me told!
A little bit like my experience with Horizon Zero Dawn, I kept finding parallels with other games, although it somehow seemed a bit less like naked plagiarism as it did in HZD. I ended up feeling like I was playing through a medley of old favourites with a fresh twist – which really added to my enjoyment!
First comparison – Portal. The whole gimmick of Gravity Rush as the name suggests, is playing with this most basic law of physics. By manipulating, or rather ‘shifting’ local gravity fields, your avatar can float, fall & fly in pretty much any direction to complete tasks and collect items up high, down low, and clinging the sides and undersides of structures across the landscape. For someone who struggles with spatial awareness I expected this to really bend my melon. But after a short time I found the controls and movements across three dimensions to be surprisingly intuitive.
The next game this reminded me of was Twilight Princess, one of my all time favourite Legend of Zelda instalments. The aesthetics are so similar, with moody, muted backgrounds which appear as elegant line drawings from a distance and smoothly resolving into higher definition as you get closer. Terry thinks this is called progressive rendering and I have no basis on which to disagree. Our heroine is complemented by a cast of idiosyncratic characters, not all of whom seem to fully appreciate she’s trying to save the world. To be fair, I did develop a rather sociopathic habit of allowing the hapless citizens to get caught up in my shifted gravity field, thereby I assume falling to their deaths shortly after. During one chapter, the cute little void kitten you meet at the start (who is in fact responsible for your abilities) is split into 20 pieces (it’s not as violent as it sounds) and you have to go and piece him back together. Just like the quest in Twilight Princess to find and cuddle the 20 cats in the Hidden Village. Man, I really hope they release TP for the Switch like they did Skyward Sword.
The game delivers its story in neat chapters, using not-quite-static comic book panels in place of fully animated cut scenes. But there is plenty of opportunity to just roam around freely, soaring through the heights of this very vertical city-scape. Honestly, it must be exhausting living here if you don’t have gravity shifting powers. At times it was deeply reminiscent of the Spiderman game, where I happily spent hours just flying around Manhatten.
In lieu of currency, your avatar must collect purple gems which can be traded to open up side quest opportunities and upgrade various skills. There’s something a bit Sonic the Hedgehog about sliding along laterally while your increasing gem count ker-chings happily.
For a game without adaptive difficulty settings, it’s reasonably forgiving of user ineptitude, with frequent autosave points. I didn’t struggle with health levels until I was pretty far in, and at it’s hardest points, persistence usually paid off. On a couple of boss fights I had Terry by my side scouring the environment for the green health vials, but otherwise nothing too challenging. Terry of course may disagree, having now spent over two decades watching me get frustrated by a game.
On a somewhat negative note, our heroine, unimaginatively named as Kat by another character, because she … has a cat, is a woefully unempowered example of a female video game leads. I mean sure, she does pretty much save the world (because the cat gives her magic powers). But every encounter she has is punctuated by her needy desperation to be thought of as attractive. Seriously, in almost all conversations she will express concern at whether of not she looks cute. Which leads me onto the costumes. Kat starts off in a rather revealing bustier and boots combination which looks neither comfortable nor practical for her line of work. As the game progresses through core and side quests she variously also gets: a maid outfit, a school uniform & a plunging cat burglar leotard leaving very little to the imagination. For a game that came out in 2012 it looks like the costume inspiration came from an Ann Summers catalogue circa 1990.
However, problematic tropes of gender depiction in games and comic aesthetics aside, the game isn’t without a dimension of social commentary. Fleeting references to labour disputes, class strife and forced migration coalesce into a parable about totalitarianism. It’s a little crude in places, but hearing the strident tones of a dictatorial figure broadcasting from public screens about how he alone can save the populous from an environmental threat is effective, and remains timely.