Gravity Rush has an appropriate heroine in Kat. She’s gifted with unique abilities, devoted to protecting the people around her, and all too often marginalized and misunderstood. So too is Gravity Rush shuffled aside, and it only deserves that fate in a small measure. It’s not polished to a triple-A gleam and it’s not cautiously encoded for mock-ironic subculture fetishes. But it’s fascinating and unlike anything else out there.
I never tire of playing Gravity Rush, and I never tire of talking about it. Not even in that desperate, convenient list format the kids seem to enjoy these days.
These aren’t the only reasons I like Gravity Rush, but I can’t overload these daily entries.
1. THE WORLD
Gravity Rush presented a strange picture: cities floating on partly natural, partly man-made islands, all orbiting a strange stone pillar and cloaked in endless, frequently clouded sky. The game dropped Kat into this realm without memories or direction, but before long she and her cat, Dusty, found their way from one section of Hekseville to the next. Questions never stopped, though. What is that giant column, and why does time creep slower further down? Where did Kat come from? And just what keeps this little archipelago afloat in the air?
Gravity Rush 2 doesn’t answer all of these. It doesn’t have to.
Instead, Gravity Rush 2 drops Kat in new places. A ragtag fleet of sky barges is home to merchants and misfits. The tropical spread of Jirga Para Lhao brings bustling markets and buzzing airships. Skyscrapers floats like bees. Mansions and elegant terraces lie above. Kat plunges into stranger places: she’ll mine crystals in the murky depths, float through dimensional rifts, and dash about a ruined city just as it’s ripped from reality. And then she’ll head back to Hekseville.
Exploring it all is marvelous. The game never explains or connects too much, and thus it leaves a little edge of uncertainty, that dreamlike sense of forces powerful and incomprehensible churning just beyond the world. When Gravity Rush 2 pulls back the curtain, it only reveals more mysteries, sending Kat on a slide through a glittering world of mirrors and asteroids or a foray through a starlit sepulcher where ammonite shells hang like enormous tree ornaments. Thank goodness.
2. THE FLYING
Gravity Rush’s flying mechanics remain a little clumsy. They’ll work when you’re simply soaring through the sky, but when you’re navigating tight spaces or fighting off enemies, things often go awry. The viewpoint swings wildly, and it’s too easy to miss your target once Kat’s in the air. Some may complain that the Nevi, the blobbish creatures that scurry and float like tar tadpoles and oil-drenched hawks, are too simple-minded. If they were smarter, the game would be truly frustrating.
And I don’t mind. Some messy spots make a fair tradeoff for the sheer wonder of flying through the air, of racing up the side of an immense building, of dashing around the underside of an aerial fortress. Confusion even makes it more convincing.
Kat gains two new play styles in Gravity Rush 2. The Jupiter jewelry makes her slower and stronger, useful in combat but not so much in exploration. The Lunar accessories, however, render her feather-light and tougher to control in battle. Yet this makes her more fun to follow when she’s simply exploring, as she can jump higher and skip off any surface.
All critical predilections discarded, I enjoy Gravity Rush at its most hectic. Even when Kat’s spinning around, crashing into Nevis as the perspective veers beyond control, there’s a thrill to it that’s worth all the trouble. Few games even attempt Gravity Rush’s whirlwind of floating, dashing, dive-kicking, and snatching up and hurling debris with a forcefield. Perhaps that’s because they’re sensible games, but they’re not as fun as Gravity Rush.
Director Keiichiro Toyama and Team Siren do their best to keep Gravity Rush 2 varied. Most of the missions are approachable item-hunts or combat, plus a singing mini-game that begs for elaboration. Unfortunately, they also insist on a few stealth missions, ignoring the fact that Kat is by nature the least stealthy individual in her own world. It’s a fun challenge for only the first eight or nine times she’ll mess up. It’s OK, Kat. This isn’t your fault.
3. THE CHARACTERS
There’s a wonderful moment early in Gravity Rush 2 when you, the player, first send Kat falling from the edges of Jirga Para Lhao’s commercial district, seeing how far she’ll go before her Dusty warps her to safety. Instead of blinking back on land, though, she plunges through the lower clouds and into a floating shantytown of impoverished laborers and near-defeated rebels, revealing in one stroke a world she’ll have to explore and a people she’ll have to save.
And you know deep down that Kat will save them. When she’s hired by soldiers who start abusing the rebels, she takes all of three seconds to switch sides and starts dismantling an unjust society.
Idealistic? Hokey? Yes and maybe, but Gravity Rush 2 is a game about feeling good and rooting for a heroine who usually does what you hope she’ll do. Kat helps everyone from estranged children to ungrateful jerks, all without dipping into sappy savior complexes. Kat takes things easy, but she’ll stand up for herself when a fight’s unavoidable. And Kat will do her best to rescue people, even when she’s fighting them. One can only assume she’s not killing the soldiers she takes down because, well, Kat just WOULDN’T, you know?
She’s also surrounded by people worth saving. Her erstwhile enemy Raven gets broader development (and a side-quest all her own), while her friend Syd swaps careers and grows both more shiftless and secretly heroic. Just about everyone has a second side, be they conniving merchants or the old man and the teenage girl who appear to be minor gods mingling with the mortals.
Even so, Gravity Rush 2 doesn’t treat everyone kindly. It demands villains, and it finds some in the new leaders of Hekseville: a vain celebrity Nevi-fighter named Kali Angel, and the benevolent, be-monacled Dr. Brahman. Both are multifaceted, driven by an agenda laced with tragedy, but the game gives them ultimately evil aims and jarringly gruesome downfalls. A Tetsuo-grade monstrosity is a little much when the original Gravity Rush ended with everyone eating ice cream together.
4. THE LITTLE THINGS
For all of the major sights in Gravity Rush 2, it never neglects the details. Its world is a comic-book spread of elegant cityscapes, cel-shaded characters, and wide vistas. It’s hardly unique in imitating artists from Europe and Japan, but it goes the extra mile by inventing a fictional language of semi-Cyrillic letters and terse half-French rolling vowels. I’m a sucker for invented dialects, and I’d love to know more about what went into crafting Gravity Rush-ese
What’s more, the world feels alive beyond Kat’s purview. Streets fill with citizens who’ll bump into Kat, duck in panic as she zooms overhead, or flail in even more panic if she’s careless enough to snatch them up in her gravity field. Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.
Kat even gains small touches in her repertoire. She has the expected range of new outfits to wear, most of them even less practical than her roachlike cape-scarf and high heels, and she easily snaps in-game photos with a camera. Some side-missions even give her new mannerisms. The best is a button-press that lets her pull out an ice cream cone and eat it no matter where she is.
That’s right. Kat can hang upside down from a hovering mass of TV screens or stand in an ancient city as it’s rent asunder by gravity monsters, and she can EAT ICE CREAM and take a picture of herself doing it. Gravity Rush 2 could never truly disappoint me.
5. THE CLOSURE
Gravity Rush 2 is aware of its own mortality. Toyama and his team knew the slim odds of getting another trip to Kat’s world, and so this isn’t just a sequel. It’s also Gravity Rush 3.
Once Kat and her friends bring down what seems to be a climactic, game-ending threat, Gravity Rush 2 continues. Kat heads further up the pillar, discovering just where she came from and deciding just who she is.
It’s all truncated and short on actual gameplay, showing us an ornate, snowswept realm that would be amazing to explore. Kat never gets the chance, though, as the game’s third act is more concerned about giving her a few precious answers.
A good chunk of Gravity Rush’s background still lies in mystery, of course. There’s no pullback to show Cynaea, the blue-haired conduit for a deity, holding a snow globe. There’s no immense flying whale bursting from an egg and disintegrating the isles like the dreamforms they always were. There’s no embarrassing turn where Kat realizes her universe is really an online video game. Gravity Rush remains a home for fantasy and subterfuge, where a world can grow in a gravity maelstrom and an earnest superheroine can defend it.
This might be all the Gravity Rush we get. It’ll go down as a cult favorite, lauded by some and given fair but justly critical appraisals by the less enamoured multitude. But it now stands complete in the most important way, and that’ll satisfy anyone who tags along with Kat in the years to come.