There are numerous barometers of arcade game quality, but the amount of times you have "just one more go" is a good one. And judging by the number of times I intended to get off the sofa so I could actually start writing this review, but ended up playing just one more game, Super Stardust Ultra is in pretty damn good shape. I just want to keep playing it.
But then that was true of its predecessor. Super Stardust Ultra is the latest update to the Super Stardust franchise, which makes the leap to PS4 in 1080p, 60 fps, ultra-bonkers glory. It's fundamentally the same game as before, only this time around features five new planets, adds several new game modes for a total of nine, and – should you have the technology – plays in full 3D.
If you haven't seen the game before, it's a twin stick shooter that's a cross between Asteroids and Robotron 2084. It warps an ostensibly flat, wraparound playfield onto the surface of a small planetoid, over which the player flies, blasting asteroids, enemy space ships and other hazards with three types of power-up weapons: a rock splitter, gold melter, and an ice crusher. These can be cycled to match the three types of asteroids – gold, rocks and ice – you're up against. The objective is simple: survive everything that's thrown at you on a particular planet, take down the end-of-level boss, and then move onto the next, more difficult challenge.
It's all basic arcade shooter stuff, and it's fantastic. Some might be disappointed that the game hasn't been more tweaked and fettled in its transition to the current generation, but I'm happy that the gameplay has been moved across lock, stock and triple smoking barrels without any alterations. I feel Super Stardust is pretty much perfect as it is: it's a classic arcade game formula, and doesn't need additional features, weapons or general gussying-up. It'd be like putting ketchup on your secret sauce.
What it does need, however, are more modes and challenges, and that it does get. This time around there are nine game types; all are fun, but some are especially addictive.
First up is the basic arcade mode, which is what I described above. There are two modes where you tackle specific planets singly, either against the clock, or simply trying to score as many points as possible by the time you destroy the boss. Endless mode is a single-planet game that pits you against never-ending spawns of monsters and rocks, while Survival sees you flying around a planet with swarms of indestructible space probes providing an additional hazard.
I enjoyed Bomber mode a lot. This is a short and strategic game where you're armed with nothing but a very limited supply of smart bombs that destroy everything within sight. The objective is to strategically use your bombs at times when there are power-ups available, which add more bombs to your inventory. It's very challenging, fun to play, and incredibly addictive, with most games only lasting a few minutes
Impact is similar to Bomber mode in that games are generally short. This time around you use a charge impact ability to smash into enemies and destroy them. Vanquished enemies and asteroids add fractions of a second to your charge impact, so the more things you hit, the longer your shield lasts. Once it's depleted, you have a few seconds of being defenseless before it charges up again.
Blockade is interesting in that you continually have rocks spawning behind you as you move, so you're constantly trying to avoid hitting your own trail. This is yet another fun mode that's cleverly done because, like other modes that mix up the gameplay, it makes you think very differently about how you approach the game.
The final mode is a very interesting one – Interactive Streaming. This basically streams the game and gives viewers the chance to vote on particular spawns of rocks and enemies to challenge the player. It's certainly a novel mode and one that I hope sees light in other games of this ilk.
If you're into multiplayer, Super Stardust Ultra has quite a few bones to throw you, with local co-op modes, as well as a quartet of head to head challenges: Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Last Man Standing, and Grab and Run.
The big question swirling around Super Stardust Ultra is whether or not it's worth buying if you've already purchased it before. And it's a question I can't answer for you. What I can say is that Ultra is the definitive version of the game, packs some innovative new modes, and looks better than ever. I played the PS3 version to death, yet found playing it again on PS4 was like rediscovering an old friend - it was just as addictive and fun as ever. Whether cosmetic upgrades and some new modes are worth $13 is totally up to you. It mightn't be worth a double-dip for everyone, but there's no doubting that, like I said at the start of the review, this is a classic arcade game; a timeless shooter that ranks alongside the greats.
One thing's for sure – if you haven't played it before, Super Stardust Ultra is an absolute must.
An outstanding, super-smooth display of arcade pyrotechnics and particle effects.
A pumping techno soundtrack that can also be switched between retro and classical compositions.
A simple and easy-to-use series of menus make navigating the game a breeze.
Assuming you're here for the highscores, the game offers a host of modes, and leaderboards for the lot.
Without doubt the definitive version of Super Stardust. Some might be disappointed about the fairly limited new additions, but regardless, it's still one of the greatest arcade shooters around.