I wonder who also remembers the PlayStation Vita (PSVita). It was a handheld gaming console that was released in 2011. It resembled the curved, slick look of the wildly popular PlayStation Portable (PSP), and it featured a touch screen, an additional touch pad at the back, cameras at the front and back and even motion controls. It was Sony’s great answer to Nintendo’s own handheld console, the 3Ds. However, for many reasons, the PSVita became a commercial failure and was forgotten by everyone when it was discontinued in 2019. It’s a damn shame, because it featured one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Developed by Japan Studio and released in 2012, “Gravity Rush” is an open-world action title where you play as mysterious amnesiac Kat, a young girl with a striking appearance: blonde hair, red eyes and dark skin, wearing a peculiar, ornate outfit. She finds herself in the steampunk city of Hekseville, situated above the enormous structure known as the World Pillar. In an effort to save a boy from a “gravity storm,” which is something like a black hole, she discovers her power to manipulate gravity and fly in any direction she desires. Using this incredible power, she becomes the heroine of Hekseville, aiding the people in need and defeating strange creatures that come out of gravity storms, known as the “Nevi.” As her adventure goes on, she begins to unravel the nature of the World Pillar and her own lost identity.
I distinctly recall the ability to control gravity being such a fun and addicting mechanic. First, with the press of a button, Kat will glow red and begin to float above the ground. Next, by tilting and moving the PSVita itself, you are able to steer the direction in which the gravity goes. (This was a brilliant use of the console’s motion controls and made the experience of playing on a hand-held console felt so magical). You can make Kat fly through the sky, stand on the sides of buildings, harass poor NPC’s or overlook Hekseville while floating in the sky. If you are skilled enough, you can change directions rapidly for efficient travel through the world. The experience is almost like playing a spiderman game where you can swing around buildings and make sharp turns, except it’s even more liberating, since you can go in any direction you like without needing anything to hang onto. In my review of “Genshin Impact,” I mentioned how freedom of movement makes open worlds fun, and this cannot be more true in the case of “Gravity Rush.” Even after I’d already finished the game, I would spend so much time just cruising through the world, bumping into stuff and free falling through the map just to enjoy that sense of verticality and liberation. Combat is also inextricably vertical. By shifting gravity in the direction of enemies, Kat is able to perform a powerful charged attack that deals massive damage while in mid air. You can even chain these attacks when there are multiple enemies, which is so satisfying to pull off.
With the fun, original gameplay as a hook, the game further draws you in with its world-building, both technically and lore-wise. Even though the PSVita is only 10 years old, it is still impressive how the developers managed to craft an open world with such a sense of scale on a hand-held console. There is a quest that requires you to descend down the World Pillar in search of something, and everything about that journey just felt so… awe-inspiring. The World Pillar is so tall that you can barely see the end of it, which is obscured by an enormous gravity storm that darkens the sky with its creepy red hues. As you start falling through, it becomes clear that the World Pillar is actually an enormous tree, as there are branches coming out of it. But after a few hundred more yards of free fall inside it, there appear countless long, bone-like structures that resemble the human spine that stretch for thousands of yards, suggesting that the pillar is not merely a tree. The journey downward seems to last forever.
After finally reaching the edge of the World Pillar, you arrive at another city called Boutoume, which is strangely occupied by only children. After traveling back to Hekseville, You find out that time actually flows differently in the two cities. Above Hekseville exists yet another realm, where Kat falls from at the start of the game! There is so much intrigue surrounding the world of “Gravity Rush” that I was compelled to keep playing. How did the World Pillar come to be? What is the World Pillar? Why is there a gravity storm at the bottom? Why does time flow differently? Who is Kat? Most things ended up being unexplained, only hinted at, but I desperately wanted clear answers to these questions, so I scoured the world, searching for secrets and clues. That’s when you know that a game deserves to be called a classic. It left such a mark on me at the time that I searched the internet for answers too. But it was too obscure of a game for there to be players passionate enough to engage in such in-depth discussions. (There is a wiki for it now though.) And yes, the game does contain secrets. Really good secrets.
After the discontinuation of the PSVita, the game eventually got a very good remaster in 2016 and an amazing sequel on the PlayStation 4 in 2017. But somehow, the series never quite caught on as it should despite the glowing reviews. Among other reasons, I suspect because it was originally a PSVita game, only a few players are aware of the original game. If it had come out on a different platform, perhaps it would have had a much larger following and thus more marketing for it. Alas, that is all in the past now. As a loyal fan, I shall spread the good word and hope.