Available on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Portable (Reviewed on PlayStation Vita)
It may look a bit like something created on SEUCK back in the C64 era (kids, ask your dad), but with their latest bite-sized entry into the PSP Mini market, developer Futurlab have created a surprisingly deep and highly original game, that successfully manages to combine a number of different game styles for a seriously satisfying experience.
To begin with, it would appear that Velocity is a plain old vertically scrolling shooter, but, like all of the best games, Velocity slowly drip feeds its secrets and foibles to the player one by one, introducing you to new game mechanics in succession before ramping up the difficulty and throwing it all together. Straight away you learn that this isn’t an ordinary “one spacecraft Vs. alien armada” style shooter; mainly because there are no enemies present from the get go. Sure, your little spacecraft has the capability of firing a weapon, and you do get to use it with regularity later on in proceedings, but the first thing you learn how to do is accelerate. That’s right, using the right bumper, you can speed up the action, and are told that traversing the short but sweet levels in the quickest time possible will be rewarded.
You are also rewarded (each level is scored using a medal system, from bronze to gold, depending on performance) by rescuing “survivors”. Blue capsules are scattered around the floating space debris and, initially, you are tasked with scooping up all of the survivors, using the accelerator to do so as quickly as possibly over the snake-like course. However, then things get a bit more complicated, and Velocity inserts another game mechanic to tax your brain.
Hit the square button, and a wee little crosshair appears, which you can move around as long as you are holding the button. This is your Quarp spacecraft’s genius teleportation function. Using this feature, you are able to warp from one side of the screen to the other, reaching survivors that are trapped in places you otherwise would not be able to reach, or even warp to the epicentre of a swirling wave of enemies and destroy them from within. We have seen shooters where aiming reticules have been employed before for various functions – Xevious, Soukyougarentai and Rayforce spring to mind – but they have pretty much always been there to obliterate the enemy. Here, moving the cursor around lends the game a frantic, almost puzzle feel, as you work out how to balance progressing through a level quickly, with efficient teleport usage to mop up every last survivor.
If this were not enough to take in, there are also bombs which can be deployed to destroy targets, brain teasingly frantic moments where you have to pick off targets in a particular order or face certain death, and sections where the level may branch off into more than one direction. Although you can move around freely, in order to fully explore some of the branching paths and maze-like levels you can deploy a teleport pod, which creates a waypoint within the level that you can return to at any time using the L1 button. Initially you may use this feature to simply return to a fork in the road, as it were. But later in the game you will require multiple pods and it all starts to make your brain hurt; but in a good way. Of course, there are sections where you just have to blast the shit out of stuff – and there are collectable power-ups for just that reason – just don’t go into this one expecting Batsugun levels of laser violence. Having said that, seeing Velocity in action on some of the later stages is just as impressive as watching a bullet-hell style game, or any shmup with bombastic visuals. Your tiny craft zips all over the screen, flinging bombs around, avoiding enemies and tearing new paths through the scenery. It looks mighty cool, in its splendidly retro-futuristic style.
VERDICT: Stuffed full of beautifully designed levels, and with a difficulty curve that is perfectly pitched, this is an excellently addictive title; you WILL want to replay levels to obtain the elusive gold medals. New stages are unlocked by acing the last one, and it is compulsive stuff indeed. The PSP Minis concept was set up to deliver to PSN Network customers the sort of great value titles that iOS gamers take for granted. Whilst the catalogue of games available may not rival that of the App Store, Futurlab have a profound grasp of how to make a superb handheld title with crystal meth-like levels of addiction. Coconut Dodge was a superb way for them to open their account, and this is even better, as it is a fully formed game experience. You get your own in-game trophies, a simple yet fun plot which even has excellent 1990’s-style static cutscenes, great retro visuals and a kicking soundtrack courtesy of Killzone composer Joris de Man who, in keeping with graphics that are so obviously a fond homage to a bygone era, has delivered an excellently old-school score to accompany the action.
Is it a shooter? Is it a racing game? A puzzler? No. It is a brilliant cross-pollination of all three, and then some. Futurlab has delivered easily the best PSP Mini yet. Velocity joins the blinding Sine Mora as being one of 2012’s most deliciously unexpected treats, and is a title that deserves to be played by anyone with a love of retro action.