The subject of much derision from the general public, the PlayStation Minis brand has been producing duck eggs from the very moment of its inception. There are a few exceptions to the rule of course – with Velocity being the most noteworthy.
UK studio FuturLab put together a stellar space themed shoot ‘em up that gained traction through word of mouth, critical acclaim and now, it’s been given a shiny new coat of paint with a few extras that will delight existing fans and new players alike.
On the surface, one could easily mistake Velocity Ultra for a bog standard schmup that is looking to pull on the heart strings of those that grew up on the genre. However, it’s so much more than that. In this vertical scrolling shooter, players control a spacecraft known as the Quarp Jet. This cosmic vessel isn’t restricted by just a mere acceleration pedal – it can also teleport across all of the courses on offer. By holding down the square button, a reticule appears on screen that can quickly transport your spaceship to any on-screen location you desire. This added twist to an age-old concept freshens up the entire experience. Rather than put the boot down and race through all of the fifty levels available, tricky blockades have to be considered, as well as the various button switches that deactivate destructive laser beams.
Alongside your standard lasers that can shoot adversaries directly ahead, the Quarp Jet is also packing a bevy of bombs that can be thrown in any one of four directions – up, down, left or right. On top of enemies and obstacles, there are a number of switches littered across the many stages of Velocity Ultra that require the player to hurl these torpedo-like explosives at a particular point on these brightly coloured buttons. Once destroyed, a colour-coded beam that would have previously annihilated the Quarp Jet will no longer be there and the player can move onto their next objective. That’s where Velocity stands out from the crowd: rather than just sell itself on its engaging old-school gameplay, FuturLab’s title also incorporates puzzle elements.
Telepods act as waypoints that players can place around levels. Using the left trigger, the map can be pulled up in order to formulate a cohesive and direct plan – which is incredibly vital due to the sprawling latter stages. Branching paths become a common occurrence and, due to this, players are required to constantly fast-travel to the scattered telepods via the map.
Once the basics have been taught, the button blasting element of Velocity Ultra becomes far more complex. Instead of shooting up a storm on one switch that corresponds with a death-ray, players will need to trash an abundant number of these switches within the current stage - and do so in a particular order (the order is outlined through a visible digit on its face). The Metroidvania-like direction that Velocity Ultra takes is an inspired decision by the studio. When you’ve obliterated four of five red buttons, but have yet to make a dent in any of the blue, green or yellow ones, this shoot ‘em up becomes one of the most satisfying puzzle games you’ll play in quite some time. Doubling back and covering old ground is never a hindrance because even at their most lengthy, the levels are still only a couple of minutes, tops.
But of course, the terrific shooter gameplay cannot be discounted. Enemies are plentiful across much of the game and pose a significant hurdle to overcome. Some will be packing shields, others will have difficult-to-interpret patterns, and it’s always fun to blow them up. Courses are unlocked via accumulated XP and as well as the obvious things such as score, the amount of survivors (depicted as glowing blue ovals) saved in stages is also taken into account for the all-important experience points. FuturLab not only deliver on the copious amount of maps, but also on their exquisite design. Some levels will see players boosting through whilst more thoughtful ones are just as exciting.
In relation to its previous incarnation, Velocity Ultra’s new visual style is gorgeous. Gone are the muddier graphics that appeared in the Mini edition, as its Ultra form uses the Vita’s OLED screen to great effect. The HD treatment really is a massive upgrade and the whole experience is more inviting because of the new look. Two more additions that will have buddies battling across their Sony handhelds are trophies and leaderboards. Time and survivors are of paramount importance to your own individual rank, but when pitted against your friends, it all gets a little bit more competitive. Due to the short length of most stages, you’ll constantly find yourself trapped in the “one more go” loop, trying to better your previous standing and shame your PSN comrades.
VERDICT: In an industry that finds itself over-saturated with specific genres, FuturLab has taken one that is rare in today’s market and turned it on its head. Not content to just deliver an accomplished space shooter, this HD’d version of a Minis classic shows the developers prowess in the puzzle space, too. A true gem that deserves to find its way onto every Vita out there.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.