Velocity Ultra Review
Velocity was constantly named one of the best PlayStation Minis and ended up ranked as one of the best games available on PSP. It amazed critics and placed FuturLab firmly as a company to watch, a was the game that seems to have cemented their relationship with Sony and gotten them work on both PlayStation Mobile and now PlayStation Vita.
A little more than twelve months after the release of the original, FuturLab have remade Velocity as a full blown Vita game, complete with a platinum trophy, upgraded visuals and leaderboards. Is that enough to make the return of Kai Tana worthwhile, or is this just for the most die hard of fans?
If you’ve played the original Velocity, you’ll probably rush at the opportunity to replay it. Although some dismissed it because of its PlayStation Mini status, those that downloaded it were treated to a high-octane arcade adventure not entirely like anything they’d ever played. The basic shoot ’em up gameplay was solid, but the transportation mechanics added, wait for it, an entire new dimension to the gameplay, allowing for tactical exploration of a given area, as well as rapid movement when surrounded by enemies or when you need to dodge an obstruction.
All of this at a beautiful 60FPS, and with a foundation of rewards and challenges constantly calling you back.
All of this remains in Velocity Ultra. The level design is the same, the enemies are the same, the mini-games are the same – from a broad standard Ultra is exactly the same as its predecessor. This means, of course, that it’s as good as it ever was, but it also means that if you hated the original or if you put hundreds of hours into it, there’s not going to be an awful lot to keep you entertained in Ultra. The trophies and leaderboards go some way towards offering replayability, but they’re not going to convert anybody.
There are a few major differences that will shake up the way you play, if not what you play. Bombs are now flung using the second analogue stick, a feature that was sorely missing on the PSP Mini version of the game. In 95% of situations, this works fantastically, but there’s the odd occasion where the second stick doesn’t quite feel up to the “rapid fling challenge” (not a real thing, but should be). Only those hunting for the platinum or who want to top the leaderboards are likely to come across this problem, but it’s there and it’ll cause your hair to turn grey.
There’s also the option to to use the touch screen to teleport. This can be turned on in the options menu, although it doesn’t work in every situation. The Critical Urgency levels – where you need to constantly boost to get through to the end – are pretty much unplayable with this on. Partly because it’s just too quick and partly because you will end up touching the screen when using the analogue sticks (causing your ship to suddenly transport in completely the wrong location). On other levels, the touch teleport is a godsend and can be used to speed up your game.
There are three different sorts of levels. The aforementioned Critical Urgency is easily the most fun, having you develop up a muscle memory and perfect timing. The other two modes are built around either killing enemies (a more traditional level for shoot ’em up fans) or exploring, using teleportation to help you take alternate paths. These are a little slower and lack the immediacy and adrenaline of Critical Urgency, but are still fun to play. You’ll need to master all three modes if you want to get through all fifty levels (and even more so if you plan to 100% it).
Once you’ve finished the main campaign, there’s still a load to see. Some levels have secret areas and there are also different rewards for each level. If you just do ok, you’ll get a bronze, but you’ll need to do everything in a level, and quickly, if you want to get a perfect medal.
There are also a set of alternative levels, many of which are more challenging than the original 50 (because you can’t hit walls) and occasional Easter egg mini-games will be unlocked as you progress, and are great for splitting up the action.
Graphics and Audio
Velocity Ultra looks fantastic. The new art style more than suits it and ties up nicely with the art from the comic-like cutscenes. This is enough to get it to the “above average” category, but the fact that it all runs at 60FPS – constantly, no matter how often you teleport or where on the map you go – is really the icing on the cake. It makes the whole package incredibly smooth, more so than perhaps any Shoot ’em Up I’ve ever played.
The audio is also noteworthy. Composed by Killzone alumni Joris De Mann, it’s a sci-fi retro throwback that fits nicely, with a few memorable tracks that’ll stick in your head. Sound effects more than do their job.
The original Velocity was a technical masterpiece – again, running at 60FPS despite aging PSP hardware and limitations of the Mini brand – but it felt very closed off. It was the sort of game that needed friends and competition, and that communal spirit just didn’t exist and the game suffered as a result. Velocity Ultra opens everything up, while perfecting the flaws in the visuals, and that’s all it needed. Trophies and leaderboards go a long way towards giving you an incentive to keep playing past the final cutscene, and as a free PlayStation Plus title, there’s going to be an awful lot of people playing in the months to come.
Some have called it one of the best games on Vita, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s incredibly tight, enormously good fun, challenging and innovative. The limitations of the Vita’s second stick and the fact that you’re probably not going to absolutely love every different sort of level is the only thing that stops this from being the perfect Vita game.