'Gravity Rush 2' is Inventive, Charming and Off-balance

'Gravity Rush 2' is Inventive, Charming and Off-balance

'Gravity Rush 2' is an occasionally trippy, always charming adventure where the city becomes a canvas for acrobatics Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony's stylish action-adventure makes the leap from the Vita to PS4 and sticks the landing

Sony's stylish action-adventure makes the leap from the Vita to PS4 and sticks the landing

Nearly every aspect of Gravity Rush 2 seems expertly tuned to maximize your bafflement, starting with its own unlikely existence. After all, the original Gravity Rush made its debut on Sony's ill-fated Vita handheld, and – unlike most launch games – it wasn't simply a genre checkbox that some marketing executive felt had to be ticked, but an honest-to-God breath of creativity built around a unique traversal method: a controlled "gravity fall" that functions somewhat akin to an imaginary cannon that fires your twiggy protagonist Kat in whatever direction your heart desires, her long limbs flapping awkwardly in the headwinds.

It's during these moments when Gravity Rush 2 is at its best: as you blast through a floating city, watching the colorful crowds of jugglers and sausage peddlers shrink to tiny specks below you, stopping only to lay waste to bulbous demons with your superpowered feet, or snap a few shots of the game's polychromatic worlds, which recall the works of French sci-fi artist Moebius. Yet Gravity Rush 2 seems reluctant to embrace this vital, relentless momentum, instead relying on a barrage of micro-tasks and mini-games that can sometimes surprise you, but consistently falls short. The result is a game that shifts between bold invention and stifling dullness.

The game's reluctance to hand over full use of Kat's suite of lively abilities at the outset ensures that the opening hours – which have you mining gems and chatting with boring, two-dimensional characters – feel like a slog. Even after Kat rediscovers her cosmic cat Dusty, who doubles as her pet and the source of her mysterious powers, it still takes a few too many trips to the mineshaft for you to arrive at a beautiful city with an unpronounceable name. But once you're there, and the familiar icons begin to crowd your map with things to do and people to see, the imperfect majesty of Kat's world begin to take hold.

Don't let the big eyes and perfectly-curved faces fool you; Gravity Rush 2 may resemble someone's idea of a kid's show, but it's actually closer to Princess Mononoke than Dragon Ball. Yes, the main plot eventually devolves into the same mishmash of conflicting mythologies, pseudo-technical jargon, and fate-of-the-world sermonizing as most other Japanese games of its scale, but the wealth of side missions lend even minor characters some unexpected complexity, even if they sometimes devolve into rote fly-there-and-back fetch quests. And while the anime clichés reach critical mass – including a few too many apocalyptic scenarios – far before even its somewhat-protracted campaign reaches its halfway point, the buoyant dialogue is sweet enough to compensate for that. Hard as it may be to fathom, this is a game about a flying superheroine that's more deft at discussing issues of class division and inequality than most "serious" games out there.

Unfortunately, though Gravity Rush 2's seemingly bottomless charm does much to make up for its pedestrian characters, it can't quite cover the game's considerable design issues. Most frustrating is how reluctant it is to fully embrace its intoxicating "fly anywhere" sensibility. Too often, you'll find yourself battling tenacious foes while trapped in a never-ending series of cramped corridors that the game's already-erratic camera can't quite navigate. Worse still, Kat's core set of gravity powers, like her signature homing kick, often seem feeble compared to telekinetically tossing chairs, rocks, and other rubble at your enemies with a single button press, which can usually kill them outright in just a few hits. This makes the fighting come off as somewhat mistuned, almost like a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry where your infinite-ammo guns do more damage than your trusty sword.

Kat's hand-to-hand combat capabilities can be modified by switching your "Gravity Style" – essentially making her mass artificially lighter or heavier depending on your preference – but this system is marred by a slight sense of imprecision, especially when it comes to floating attacks like the heavy homing kick, which takes several seconds to charge but loses all of its punch if you so much as glance slightly off target. And the gravity meter that governs most of your capabilities always seems a little too fickle, even once levelled-up. As it approaches empty, you must freefall for a few seconds before it flickers back to life, a wrinkle that does little but make interminable tussles feel even longer.

These hiccups are easy enough to alleviate through smart play in most of Gravity Rush 2's many, many fights, but the game's frequent boss encounters exacerbate them, too often restricting your safe attack options to a single tactic repeated ad nauseum. An unreliable camera, bullshit area-of-effect attacks, regenerating enemy health, inexplicable story triggers in multi-phase boss fights, timed sections with no visible clock counting down – if there were a such thing as the seven deadly sins of video game design, at its worst, Gravity Rush 2 commits most of them.

In the moment, these shortcomings feel devastating, but once it's over and you're testing the breeze above the floating city, they almost seem to melt away. No matter how low the lows may sink, the joys of a simple flight will always bring you back. And luckily, there's a lot of flying to do, and a lot of world to see. Just don't expect it to be quite as immaculately-realized as the city below you.