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Gravity Rush 2 Hands-On Preview: Stylishly Falling Under the Spell of Sony Japan’s Sequel
I have no real familiarity with Gravity Rush, a gravity-defying action game first released for the PS Vita in 2012, and later remastered for the PlayStation 4 in 2015. I had heard it was a Japanese superhero game with a unique style, but never took the time to look into it further. With the Gravity Rush 2 demo now available on the PlayStation Network, I decided to jump in blind and see what awaited.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sony Japan Studio
Genre: Anti-Gravity Action
Release Date: January 20, 2017
ESRB Rating: Teen
The Gravity Rush 2 demo opens with very little context for the small chunk of gameplay that follows. Players are introduced to Kat, the game’s protagonist, who narrates a bit of backstory over a black screen. Her words float by in a made-up language that’s subtitled into English for the audience as she speaks briefly of a trip to Jirga Para Lhao, a large trading village. Before too long, the black screen fades to a beautiful scene wherein a fleet of airships travel across the sky.
Kat stands atop one of these steampunk airships with Dusty, her feline companion, looking out into the horizon. The beauty of Gravity Rush 2’s cel-shaded graphics is clear from the beginning, with stunning colors and a great art style lending everything a unique atmosphere. Following a short camera control tutorial, a menu asks whether you want to play the Beginners Course or the Experienced Course. Once the choice is made, the airships land and allow Kat to roam Jirga Para Lhao for herself.
Movement is quite fast, proving Kat to be an agile character. Running through a town so tightly-packed with trading stalls, NPCs, and destructible objects, it’s easy to appreciate the effort put into the scenery by Sony Japan Studio. Cartoonish character models pop with vivid pastel colors, while the scenery features slightly more realistic levels of detail and darker, more subdued shades. It creates a nice contrast to everything around Kat, looking very much like something you might see in a comic book.
It didn’t take long to find some action, as a small group of monsters appeared in the opening area. Black blobs of varying shapes with one glowing eye, the first wave were ground-based and whipped their tails to attack. As the tutorial informed me, Kat can unleash a nice kick combo by tapping Square, and can also dodge with R2. It’s a little simplistic for my tastes, but it gets the job done. The second wave appeared and closely resembled the first, though they hovered in the air and spit projectiles.
To easily combat flyers, Kat can create a low gravity field around her, collecting background objects with one press of the Circle button. Once a ring of garbage surrounds her like some kind of weird Saturn cosplay, each object can be hurled forcefully at enemies as a long range attack.
From there, a brief cutscene played as Kat was rewarded for her bravery with a free kebab from a nearby vendor… only for the treat to be snatched from her grasp by a seagull! Suddenly, a tutorial screen informed me of Kat’s ability to levitate, which might be Gravity Rush 2’s most unique feature. R1 allows Kat to hover aboveground and, after pointing the camera in any direction, she can then fling herself through the air at incredible speeds. The humor in her less-than-graceful method of flight is unmistakable, limbs flailing all the while.
It felt unnecessarily clunky at first, but the mechanics are sound. Tapping R1 again mid-flight stops Kat immediately, allowing her to change directions and continue on her way. There is also some limited control with the left thumbstick while flying, though it allows for minor adjustments at best. After chasing that no-good seagull, Kat landed — but it was too late, and her free meal was gone forever. Just then, she noticed a familiar ship in the distance and headed over there.
The previous conversation with the vendor was shown with the use of character portraits with speech bubbles, as seen in lots of other JRPGs. Approaching this NPC near his ship, a marker appeared to note the start of a primary mission, which then gave way to several pages of a comic book-style cutscene. It transitioned from panel to panel at the push of a button, and also allows the player to go back and re-read pages. It pays tribute to comics in a way InFamous’s cutscenes didn’t quite accomplish back in 2009, coming across as a stylish extension of Gravity Rush 2’s aesthetics rather than a jarring tonal shift.
Long story short, a cargo crate was stolen and needed to be retrieved, so Kat took flight and headed to the designated area. Hurtling through the village’s many tall buildings was unexpectedly thrilling, and I took a few extra minutes to get accustomed to the controls. It wasn’t long before hovering, flying, reorienting, and then landing felt like second nature… and that was before combat was mixed in. Kat’s gravity-altering abilities aren’t dissimilar to the Zero-G sections of Dead Space. Like Isaac Clarke, Kat can walk on the sides of buildings and under bridges simply by flying toward them and landing on the chosen surface.
Moving on, the stolen cargo crate was predictably surrounded by enemies of both known varieties. I finished off the grounded foes first, then turned my attention to the flyers… and only then did the game reveal one of Kat’s other tricks. While levitating near enemies, a homing circle will lock onto them and enable her to zero in with a flying kick. What’s more, a meter fills during combat that eventually lets you activate a devastating special attack where Kat pinballs fiercely between foes, laying waste to all who oppose her.
The Beginners Course ends there, but only after a large boss monster appears. It consisted of multiple glowing eyes (weak points), and maneuvering in such a way to hit them one-after-another was both easy and intuitive, even if the fight itself was pretty simplistic. No such boss appears on the Experienced Course, replaced instead by a group of flyers more formidable than the last. Kat’s warp kick didn’t have enough oomph to take them down, but the demo revealed another key mechanic: Kat’s transformations.
Lunar Form makes Kat lighter than air, speeding around like a living twister while also adding a combo to her warp kick. Jupiter Form makes her movements feel heavy and much more impactful, giving her a new attack in the form of a fearsome ground pound. Both are activated and deactivated via the touchpad, and add new layers to what may otherwise be a slightly undercooked combat system.
Going to the next designated area, Kat is soon joined by another superheroic figure named Raven, thus beginning a team-up with an AI companion. New baddies in the form of human soldiers and large mechs show up to challenge the super friends, and do so in unexpectedly large numbers.
This was the best moment to combine everything learned previously, and it turns out the various attacks and abilities meld together pretty seamlessly. I went from chucking crates at foes, to picking them up and hurling them off the nearest bridge, to dropping Kat from the sky like a meteor, to ricocheting between soldiers like a magic bullet with a mind of its own. By the time the final boss appeared — a massive mech not totally unlike Metal Gear Rex in design — I had it all down like an expert superhero.
Targeting the glowing purple shield generators placed over the mech’s body, Raven synched up with Kat’s more powerful attacks like any crime-fighting duo should. One thing to note is that I never saw a health meter for Raven, so there was no need to babysit her or break away from my tactics for an unwanted revival mechanic. Once the boss was wounded enough, a prompt for a finishing move appeared and transitioned into a gratuitously long, flashy, anime-like scene ending with the complete obliteration of our motorized nemesis.
Thus, the demo ended and left me with only one question to ask: Why does the game have to be a month away from release?! Gravity Rush 2 felt like the Supergirl video game I never knew I wanted, with truly fun gameplay and a wonderful visual style to rival The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Valkyria Chronicles.
As for this promising sequel, Gravity Rush 2 will be released on January 20th exclusively for the PlayStation 4.
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