Gravity Rush is one of the few launch titles for the PlayStation Vita that manage to garner any interest for me and is the first game I've played on the system. Mostly, it feels like a third-person action game with an interesting new mechanic: the protagonist can realign gravity to any direction of her choosing. That's what had me intrigued from the get-go and that's certainly where the title's "fun factor" is found. Then it runs into another problem.
The game feels like an anime or manga. The presentation is cel-shaded and the character designs match those you would find coming from Japanese media. Many story elements are told through comic book panels and the plot is broken up into episodes. All of these things are good. In fact, the comic book panels were something that really impressed me: they were crisp and clean, flowed smoothly, fit in very well with the aesthetic, and responded to gyroscopic movements (tilting the system would change the perspective and gave each of the panels a sense of depth – a very cool touch). The problem here is pacing.
Most anime is segmented into two seasons or 24 episodes. Rather than keeping the action going non-stop for all 24 episodes, many will dawdle in building character relationships, showing off the world, and walking the audience through some of the day-to-day minutia of the lead character. These, of course, are split up into 20-minute chunks that typically sprinkle in some mysteries pointing at the larger plot here and there. Characters are introduced one by one and slowly but surely we get ready for action to commence. When it does, the audience is dropped in and things have to be resolved that episode, or at least wrapped up enough to give a proper cliffhanger. I'm not a writer by any means but this is my experience.
Now let's talking about pacing in games. The player is here to be entertained but, more so, the player wants to be involved and feel like her time is being used in a meaningful well: the game play needs to be interesting and needs to make sense. As a player, I want to go from one action point or challenge to the next, just like advancing through levels in Super Mario Bros. This action-driven pacing is done incredibly well in games like Uncharted or Portal: the player isn't left out, isn't bored, and isn't caught asking "why am I doing this?" And as the player is moved from one challenge point to the next, difficulty should be increased. The difficulty increase is needed to keep the player engaged. Changing up the presentation is also nice to keep things from feeling like a mundane loop.
Back to Gravity Rush and its anime-esque pacing. It feels slow. Challenges feel mundane. I played for nearly an hour doing nothing but fetch quests -- required, story-driven fetch quests. First I had to fix a water fountain, then I had to find a home, then I need to find furnishings for my home, then I was gathering balloons, and so on. When an "action episode" (challenge action-oriented game play) appeared, it was followed about another "character episode" (fetch quest), or sometimes two. This broke the flow. As a girl with gravity-bending powers I did not want to be hunting down balloons that were floating off toward the atmosphere – that's not cool or interesting (at least not as presented). It was mundane.
I appreciate the game being inspired by anime or manga and being designed to appear as one. However, that structure does not translate well into game design without making some concessions for the sake of the game. Granted, this could pass as the most impressive one-to-one translation of an anime series into a video game, but, since it's not coming from an anime, is that really a goal to be striking for? Game play as comes first; player experience is always more important that plot or story or characters or aesthetic -- more important than any other one ingredient you may bake into it to create that experience. This is something like trying to take a cake mix and using it to bake a pie.
The mechanics in Gravity Rush are fun and the characters and world are passable. However, after an hour of playtime, I shouldn't be wondering when the game starts. (Square-Enix, takenote.) Show me what's cool right up front and then keep wowing me with it.
Gravity Rush was developed by SCE Japan Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. For this post, I played for about 3 hours on the PlayStation Vita. I played a rented copy.