Gravity Rush Remastered Review – Defying Gravity (PS4)
Some people say there are no truly original ideas left. That’s true in some respects; it’s hard to imagine a piece of art or entertainment being released that isn’t derivative of another work in some way. Still, great ideas don’t need to be the first of their kind to come across as “original”: as long as they offer an experience that feels unique, they can be thought of as milestones in their given medium. When Gravity Rush debuted on PlayStation Vita back in 2012, its soaring, gravity-shifting mechanics accomplished such a feat: to this day, you’d be hard-press to find another game that plays like it. Now that PS4 owners have a chance to take a crack at Kat’s first adventure, they’ll see how — in spite of a few prominent flaws — Gravity Rush Remastered brings one of the most distinctive and whimsical adventures you can experience in gaming today.
Dialing Up the Charm
The city of Hekseville has got some serious issues to work out: monsters called Nevi are causing chaos, mysterious gravity storms are sending people’s property through the air and a thief named Alias keeps trying to make off with the city’s precious gems. Thankfully, they have an unsung hero on their side: a girl named Kat, who — despite not remembering who she is and what exactly she’s supposed to be doing — decides to use her magical cat Dusty’s gravity-shifting abilities to help the citizens in any way she can. All of this might sound a bit silly in text, of course, but the story of Gravity Rush Remastered works so well because it’s full of the sort of pure energy and whimsy you might expect to see in a Studio Ghibli film. Great characters, from bumbling cop Syd to rival gravity-shifter Raven, do a great job at fleshing the world out and giving you a narrative reason to care about the gameplay. It’s a simple story, but well-told, and players will likely feel compelled to revisit this world after the credits roll.
For its part, the presentation should also be credited for making this universe feel alive. The upgraded high definition visuals make the anime-inspired art style that much more effective, and effects meant to solve technical problems in the Vita version of the game — such as faraway objects fading into a “sketchy” style — remain fascinatingly stylish. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t feature full voice acting (the characters’ fictional language is infrequently voiced, with almost all dialogue appearing as text in speech bubbles or on the bottom of the screen), and the comic-book-style cutscenes do seem a bit cheap on a home console, but these are understandable leftovers from a project that was originally portable. Besides, there’s no denying what an aesthetic accomplishment it is in spite of its limitations: soaring between immense sections of the city with zero load times is an absolute joy, and Kohei Tanaka’s spirited score brings more life to the city streets than NPCs ever could.
Dizzying New Heights
It’s the gameplay, though, that really makes Gravity Rush Remastered a distinctive experience. With regard to its main gimmick, not much has changed from the original: you tap R1 to go into gravity-shifting mode, then use the right stick or tilt the DualShock 4 to change the angle you’ll fall at. This, in essence, gives you free reign over the entire city: you can run along walls, soar through the sky, stand upside-down and come crashing to the ground from any height with no consequences. I have to admit that the first time I played around with the controls, I was giggling like a little kid. There’s just something viscerally satisfying about having the ability to play god with gravity, and the freedom you’re afforded in doing so is unlimited right from the start. The only real problem is that the camera, which tilts and tumbles to accommodate the changing “right way down,” can make flying around a dizzying affair, particularly in combat sections that require you to shift frequently. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit lightheaded when you go to stand up after playing for a while!
Of course, the game isn’t just about flying around willy-nilly: like any open-world adventure title worth its salt, it’s got plenty of structured things for you to do. Predictably, these are split into the main story missions and optional side challenges that test your ability to use different gravity techniques. These latter bits are often quite difficult, and it’s not uncommon for you to have to upgrade Kat’s various skills with precious gems before having a shot at the coveted “gold” completion rating.
Locations, Locations, Locations
The meat and potatoes of the offerings, of course, are the story missions, which send you to all sorts of interesting locations — my personal favorites are the Vegas-esque entertainment district Pleajeune and the creepy village known as Boutoume, which is located miles below the rest of the city and inhabited by a tribe of mysterious children. These missions offer up quite the varied list of objectives: you might have to take someone soaring across the city with you, attempt to sneak past security guards using your powers or just beat up some nasty Nevi threatening the citizens. The combat can get a little repetitive sometimes, since you have to shift a lot and aim kicks over and over at enemies with bigger health bars, but on the whole it’s a ton of fun — and the boss battles against giant Nevi are undeniably awesome spectacles.
Gravity Rush Remastered attempts to update the 2012 portable original for a 2016 home console experience, and it’s mostly successful in doing so. Though some elements feel like relics of its portable past, like comic-book-style cutscenes and a lack of voice acting, there’s no denying it’s still a hell of an aesthetic accomplishment. Yoshiaki Yamaguchi’s gorgeous art style shines through in both the excellent character portraits and the city’s uniquely colorful districts, and Kohei Tanaka’s lively soundtrack evokes the same sort of childlike whimsy you might expect to find in a Ghibli film. The gameplay can be a bit disorienting with its whirling camera and shift-happy combat, but there’s still nothing quite like the sense of freedom you get from soaring around Hekseville’s bizarre monsters and creative locales — and it’s a feeling of childlike joy that makes Kat’s first adventure worth playing in spite of its flaws.
Review code for Gravity Rush Remastered provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please check out our Review Policy here.