Wednesday 22 May 2013

Velocity Ultra Review (PS Vita)

For a long time the PlayStation minis have represented bite sized chunks of cheap fun, ideally suited to the pick and play mechanics offered by first the PSP and then the PlayStation Vita. However, though fun, many have been nothing more than attempts to replicate games often found on the iOS and Android systems. Velocity represented a departure from this and in doing so created a new standard for what can be achieved with a mini.

With Velocity Ultra, FuturLab have taken the original game and upped the level of the presentation to make it seem a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita. What they have managed to create is the greatest vertically scrolling shooter from yesteryear that you haven’t yet played. But to merely categorise it as a shooter is doing it a disservice. At its heart there are so many different mechanics going on that it’s something with much more depth than that.

Each of the fifty levels (plus Bonus stages), requires players to juggle with a number of different objectives. First of all, players must blast enemies and simply service in classic shooter style. Secondly, there are pods spread around the level containing survivors which need to be rescued and last but not least each level is a deadly race to the finish as a clock continually counts down. As you progress the focus changes in each stage with, for example, a static comic book style screen popping up displaying a message to tell you if you can take your time or need to boost through until the end.

It is within the mix of these games mechanics that things become very interesting. Aside from the usual weapon power ups and bombs your ship can also teleport. The levels often descend into crazy scrolling mazes with dead ends, when this happens you need to teleport into a clear section of the level to continue. Holding the right trigger button also speeds up your craft as it moves up the level. This leads to many levels turning into more of a maze race than a shooter, especially when the time limits are set incredibly tightly.

New for the Vita version is the ability to teleport using the touch screen. We found it a little tricky compared to suing the analogue stick. Seemingly so did Futurlab but because fans asked for it the option was left in for those that want to try their hand at using it.

This would be hectic enough but there are even more fiendish things afoot. At a certain point players gain the ability to drop teleport pods. Sometimes these are infinite and sometimes highly limited in use. This allows the player to teleport back to any one of the pods they have dropped and continue the level from there. The reason you need this is because at higher levels there are complex laser shield defence systems that need to be deactivated. This generally consist of anywhere between ten and thirty colour coded nodes that need to be destroyed in numerical order from lowest to highest. Hit one in the wrong order and the whole grid reactivates.

The nodes are of course spread out all over the levels requiring the playing to bounce back and forth around the map to hit them in the right order. There can also be numerous sets of nodes, all in different colours. Couple this with the continued threat of enemies, the time limit and the need to rescue survivors and everything gets incredibly, addictively hectic. Oh and of course hitting any of the laser shields results in instant destruction.

As well as this there are hidden areas spread around the level that unlock trophies and further bonus missions. This, along with a tough medal grading system based on your performance within the level means there is a staggering about of replay value in the game. Just in case that isn’t enough for you there is also a complete version of mine sweeper and a few takes on classic games such as thrust hidden away in the extras section.

Velocity Ultra is an exceptional and in many ways ground breaking game. It was always simply too good to stay a mini and perhaps should have made the jump straight to Vita in the first place. In truth, Velocity Ultra is a must have game. There isn’t much here aside from improved presentation to set it aside from it’s Mini counterpart but it currently stands as one of the best games available on the PlayStation Vita and we can’t see this changing any time soon.

In short it was a classic mini and now it’s a classic Vita game. We said before that if this had been made on the eight or sixteen bit consoles it would be lauded as an all-time classic and we see have seen nothing since to change that opinion. This is still about as essential as you can get and shows an imagination, design level and craft that many of the industries big hitters could learn from.


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