A solid, well-executed gimmick can mask plenty of potential criticisms, and carry the subject for multiple iterations. Just ask ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, who has somehow cultivated a career spanning decades by embracing the gimmick of being a bristly, miserable bastard who can be a bit good at glum introspection. Problem is the good is far outweighed by the bad as Morrissey ages, as he forgot to grow as a person beyond that grumbling navel-gaze. Gravity Rush 2 is more than a bit of a latter day Morrissey.
PS Vita-born Gravity Rush’s gimmick is nothing quite so sullen, but it does hold a stroke of brilliance. You can manipulate the gravity around the game’s likeably clumsy superheroine Kat and use motion control to steer her around mid air. It was a rather exciting mechanic that seemed tailor-made for PS Vita’s unique control set up. Sadly Vita is a dead format for the likes of Gravity Rush these days, but the praise and popularity of it earned the game a second shot via last year’s PS4 remaster, as well as a full-fledged console-based sequel that has now finally arrived.
Kat’s latest adventure picks up a little ways after the events of the first game where, as an amnesiac with powers, she battled the oily-looking, pink-orbed creatures known as the Nevi (you can watch the bridging mini-feature anime to fill a gap if you wish) and she finds herself far from her adopted home of Hekseville, without fellow gravity shifter Raven or the cosmos-patterned feline, Dusty, who unlocks Kat’s powers, but still lumped with the lazy, bumblingcharmer, Syd. Now mining for their supper as part of a ragtag mining community of Banga Village. Life is tough, and the rules enforced by the village’s leader, along with a distinct lack of gravity powers, make it difficult for Kat to earn a living. Of course she soon encounters her old foe the Nevi, and reunites with Dusty before she ends up embroiled in a rebellion against the rich and powerful of this world as well as the ever-escalating threat posed by the Nevi.
Gravity Rush 2 is in entirely new locations, built with the power of a console in mind. It’s more than twice the size of the original game’s map in fact. The game still retains the delightful 80s European cartoon/Japanese anime hybrid visual style, with a nice mixture of in-game cutscenes and comic book panels moving the story along, but there’s more scope and depth to the world design. When you arrive at the port of the city early on, it looks like nothing more than a sharper, less grungy-looking upgrade of Hekseville. As you begin working through the story, however, you soon learn just how large and varied this new locale is. Instead of just being a wide expanse of land, the city floats on crystal-powered islands with the poor relegated to the murkier, shack-filled depths, the general population in the European-looking city above them, the elite rich sit further up in massive, luxurious homesteads, and the military towers above them all in a hulking skybase. It’s a really interesting bit of world design where class and power is visually shown as how high up your home is. More importantly, this is more freeing to Kat’s gravity-defying powers. Of all the changes and improvements Gravity Rush 2 does bring, this is probably the most impressive.
The only downside is despite the bustling crowds and people going about their daily lives, there’s little to it that feels like a functioning place. In designing the world to suit Kat’s powers and to explain the story somewhat, there’s a disconnect between the parts you interact with and the rest.
For instance, the characters you meet along the way are generally-speaking, quite interesting, with some genuinely fun backgrounds and stories, but with the exception of Raven, they exist only in the bubble of time in which Kat interacts with them. A lot of the side mission characters are taken from the copy/paste crowds, and this jars with the individuality of their little stories when three identical versions of them are loitering in a twenty foot radius just plodding about, having no purpose. It’s a shame because the design work is so well done. The European architecture of the city is similar to Hekseville in some ways, but there’s a whole lot more variety to it. full of vibrant, cheerful colors that sit alongside the murkier depths of the mines and shanty towns to create distinct areas whilst working as a cohesive whole. In short, Gravity Rush 2’s world is a great-looking playground for Kat’s powers, but feels a bit empty when you look a little closer.
On the subject of Kat’s powers, she is a less clumsy superheroine this time around, more confident in her abilities once she gets a hold of them again, and it does manifest into the way she handles during combat, if not quite to the level I’d hoped.
Gravity Rush’s weakness, certainly more so when it came to PS4, was in conveying that unbridled freedom Kat’s gravity-shifting gives the player whilst trying to make combat feel responsive. It was a hit and miss affair, with the camera lurching in some obtrusive manner a little too often during more hectic battles, and targeting suffered during these times too, making the late-game of Gravity Rush way more of a tedious slog than it should have been, especially given the upgrades to Kat’s abilities you’d gained by that point. For the sequel, there’s a definite improvement on the targeting and camera work, but it still has the same issues once things escalate to large-scale battles (not helped by some objectives not being entirely clear either).
Still, it is better, and the addition of new movement/combat forms as the game progresses further fleshes out Kat’s otherwise familiar set of kicks and spins. The most pleasing is the ability to pick up and launch not only small objects such as crates, chairs and the like, but also water, forming floating globes of liquid that can be thrown at threats, fires, and such. Much like the fun of Kat’s stasis field catching people and taking them with you, this ability adds a new dimension to how missions and combat can be handled.
Kat also picks up two whole new movesets, called Lunar and Jupiter, that affect the gravity around her differently and add new abilities in the process. Lunar makes Kat’s natural weight far lighter, allowing her to move more swiftly, jump great heights, and land more gracefully. In combat it allows her to chain attacks both on the ground and in the air in combination with the regular gravity-shifting ability. Jupiter makes Kat heavier, allowing for some hefty attacks and a more devastating use of the throwing ability. Its best power is having Kat drive into the ground from a height and create a crushing shockwave that’s super-satisfying to unleash when in a pinch.
Once you’ve obtained them, switching and combining these abilities massively perks up Gravity Rush 2’s combat and traversal. It certainly adds a bit of spice to the inevitable exploration for the upgrade-giving crystals that are scattered about the world, something that became less pleasant in the later hours of the original game.
After a short while you get to team up with ally and former rival Raven on certain missions, and this again adds something to fights, including some delicious double-team finishers and select moments of synchronized violence that will leave a massive grin on your face. A good example of this is that a few missions require a level of stealth in Gravity Rush 2, and they’re surprisingly well-handled, but the best one sees Kat and Raven sneaking up on guards and administering double gravity-defying takedowns. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s oh-so-pleasing.
So far then, Gravity Rush 2 is a sequel that improves some areas whilst ignoring a few existing flaws, but there’s a good amount of new stuff to get involved in, including a cute photo mode (that acts as a hub for costume changes) and an interesting multiplayer aspect.
The multiplayer is asynchronous, with challenges, races, and treasure hunts set by other players invading your game, but the players themselves do not appear live, only in a colorful ethereal form akin to a racing game’s ghost mode. It enhances the established in-game challenges, and treasure hunting in particular gives you more impetus to explore the game world for reasons beyond collecting crystals. It’s a welcome addition to Gravity Rush, and handled in a manner that means it comes off as complementary rather than shoehorned in.
Gravity Rush 2 is definitely a step up from its predecessor in many ways, but the thrill of its gimmick’s newness is somewhat diluted the second time around. There’s nothing in Gravity Rush 2 as new and exciting as the gravity powers, and that can magnify its shortcomings. Still, this is a game with a unique, bright personality that radiates through every pore of its being, from colorful world to jazzy, upbeat soundtrack.
It’s a game that retains and amplifies the enjoyable gravity-shifting silliness, endearing protagonist, and the jovial sense of humor that counterbalances its serious side. It’s a pretty good game basically, but I expected a little more out of it, a more thorough refinement and reshaping of its existing woes, a slightly more involving game world. As such, Gravity Rush 2 is a joyful, yet occasionally underwhelming, experience.