What happens when you combine Caverns of Mars, Portal and Galaga together, then jam a Commodore Amiga into any available orifice? You get Velocity Ultra.
Depending on how old you are, that description may be more than enough to convince you to download this new Vita title from British developer FuturLab, but others among you may need a little more convincing, particularly if you have no idea what Caverns of Mars is.
To call Velocity Ultra a "new" game is perhaps a little misleading -- it's actually a remake of a PlayStation Minis title. Owing to PlayStation Minis' lack of visibility and promotion on the PSN Store, however, it's entirely possible that its original incarnation may have passed you by. For that I say "for shame," but I can't really blame you for that -- at least it allows you to come to Velocity Ultra with beginner's mind, which is probably a good thing.
For those of you who did indeed miss out on the original Velocity, here's the gist: you pilot a diminutive spacecraft through a series of perilously-designed ruins floating in space, and are tasked with rescuing as many survivors as possible as quickly as possible while listening to some absolutely awesome chiptune-inspired electronica with a distinctly Amiga/tracker music feel about it. The screen constantly scrolls forwards, though you can accelerate with a quick squeeze of the right shoulder button, allowing you to zip through levels you're confident in -- indeed, some levels with tight time limits all but require you to do this.
That's how the game starts, anyway. The beauty of Velocity is that it continues evolving as you progress through the game. Initially, you're just rescuing survivors; then, you're shooting enemies; then, you're using your ship's teleporter function to pass through solid walls and get to otherwise inaccessible-areas; then you're disabling security systems by shooting switches in the right order; then you're warping back and forth to different points in the level while trying to remember which path led to the green switch you're supposed to be pressing; then... you get the picture. By the end of the game you are juggling all of these things simultaneously, and the game isn't just a shmup any more; it's more of an action-puzzler.
Velocity can be difficult, particularly later in the game, but it's by no means an insurmountable challenge. Excellent pacing and the gradual introduction of new mechanics in a sensible, logical order means that you're never overwhelmed with too much new information at once, and you're given plenty of time to acclimatize yourself to new systems before being troubled with more.
Alongside the good pacing comes the fact you can take ownership of how challenging you want to make the game for yourself: it's reasonably straightforward to just blitz your way through all the levels and make it to the end, but if you want to get the best scores, rescue all the survivors, beat the par times and unlock all the ludicrously difficult secret levels, you'd better get practicing. In this sense, the game caters to both more casual gamers who just want to "beat" the game, and those who truly want to master it.
If you're already familiar with the original Velocity, the question on your lips right now is probably "is this still worth getting?"
That's a tricky one to answer, to be honest. While the game content is largely the same -- it's a remake, not a sequel -- the enhancements make it a pleasure to play through again. Specifically, Ultra adds better in-game visuals with dynamic lighting effects; improved, higher-resolution comic book cutscenes; touchscreen support for the teleportation mechanic rather than the slightly twitchy controls of the original (which are still available if you prefer); and a full complement of PSN trophies to pursue. Whether or not the upgrade to the Vita version is "worth it" depends entirely on how much you care about these things -- for some people, trophy support alone will be enough to get them to buy it; for others, it may not offer enough over the excellent original to justify a second purchase.
For those who have never played Velocity's previous incarnation, however, this is a no-brainer; it's not only one of the best Vita games I've ever played, it's one of the best, most creative and inventive takes on the shoot 'em up genre I've ever encountered. It's a game perfect for dipping into in small doses when you have a free moment, yet friendly to more protracted play sessions once you get into the groove.
And man. That music. Put on some headphones for this one, folks.
I agree with much of what Pete said, but the heart and soul of Velocity Ultra are its accelerated scrolling and short-distance teleport mechanics. When it diversifies its levels with more enemies and convoluted security locks that need to be destroyed in a specific order, it actually takes away from what the game does best.
The forced scrolling offers an intelligently organic risk-reward tradeoff. Speeding through the levels earns experience points and can be a lot of fun, but go too fast and you're likely to botch an otherwise simple teleportation attempt, or waste a life in a collision with enemy ships. As for the teleporting, it has a risk-reward component (your ship can't move as you place the teleportation reticle), but it's more about giving players a new and interesting way of moving in a shoot-'em-up. These two abilities harmonize, pushing you to rub your head and pat your belly in a way that has you struggling to keep track of what you're doing, but often succeeding at it anyway. At its best, it's reminiscent of the first time you nailed a solo in Guitar Hero, or the moment just before Tony Hawk's Pro Skater clicked and you backflipped over a halfpipe and landed in a grind before nursing a manual just far enough to get back on a rail, all the while feeling out of control, like your fingers were a quarter-second behind where they ought to be.
That's Velocity Ultra at its best, as you hammer down the scrolling button and nail teleport after teleport, worried each time that you might be pushing the screen just a hair too fast and it would squash you behind a bit of jutting level geometry. But the curious thing about Velocity Ultra, given its name and all, is that the need for speed is mostly in your head. As Pete said, if all you want to do is beat the game's 50 main levels, that's not too tall an order. It introduces new mechanics to you at a rate that it makes you gain basic competency with each, but moves on to the next (sometimes inferior) gameplay wrinkle before it asks you to master the previous one. The result is a fun $7.50 game that can be plowed through with great velocity, but when it comes to sticking with you, it just doesn't have the viscosity.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The interstitial comic book scenes have a strong sense of style to them, while the in-game visuals are both clear and distinctive.
- Music: Fantastic, catchy, pulse-pounding tunes, so long as you like chiptune-infused electronica.
- Interface: Teleportation controls can be a bit twitchy -- probably deliberately so -- and the alternative touchscreen control method is a bit fiddly, but this is otherwise an excellent fit for the Vita's control scheme.
- Lasting Appeal: If you're a completionist, racking up the trophies in this one will keep you busy for some time. If you just want to romp through the levels, you might be done with it a bit more quickly.
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