Review: Velocity Ultra (Sony PlayStation Vita)

2013-07-03-161256Velocity Ultra
Publisher: Futurlab
Developer: Futurlab
Genre: Shooter/Puzzle
Release Date: July 2, 2013

Velocity got a great review from Aaron last year, and this year sees it get a make-over to HD, from the mini version into a full blown Vita release, complete with trophy support, as Velocity Ultra. Not content to simply just redesign the visuals to be HD, they’ve revamped the art style to be a bit more striking and dynamic, and added a few new options that take advantage of the fact that the Vita has a touchscreen and a second analog stick. But is it worth it if you already have the original Mini this is modified from? The original was part of the PS Plus program, and runs about $3 if you weren’t in on it, while this runs for just under $8 for the HD treatment. Honestly, if you have a Vita, opt for the pricier version, as the optional controls and visuals are worth it. Let’s take a look.

Briefing_Before_AfterWhile Velocity is a vertical shooter with some puzzles thrown in, there is a little bit of a plot going for it. You play as Kai Tana J, a female pilot of the Quarp Jet, a small experimental one man craft with a unique power plant and upgradable weapons, launched to combat the Zetachron, an invading alien race. The Zetachron aren’t the primary mission however, they’re merely a complication. Vilio, a star with a number of space stations nearby, turned into a Red Giant and then began collapsing in on itself, creating a black hole. The transformation into a Red Giant sent out a shockwave that crippled the space stations, leaving the survivors stranded there. Because of the attacking Zetachron and the shockwave, security systems have sprung up to protect the survivors, but getting to them means fighting through enemies and taking those systems down to rescue people. Welcome to 2212.

The story in this game does take a backseat to the gameplay, however, there are some neat additions that pop up, as well as logs and messages you get on your flight computer that add to the game world a little bit and expand your information there. While I won’t give away the ending, there is something of a conclusion to the whole ordeal, so it’s not just an ongoing thing hanging out there, but I would love to see a sequel. The game is a blast to play and I’d love to see what might happen to Kai next.

Screenshot_Before_AfterThe game has been given an overhaul from the original Minis release, and visually, it’s pretty decent looking. The artwork has a great style to it, and the little cutscenes you get that advance things along or warn you that you’re heading into a high speed run are pretty dynamic looking and get you ready for it. If you look at the comparison pics between Velocity and Velocity Ultra, you can see a big difference, and while they opted not to do a total redesign, I think the way they went with makes it stand out quite a bit more and is more fun to look at while you’re playing. The audio is decent as far as explosions and ship sounds go, and I really loved the music to it, but there isn’t much here as far as that goes. You can turn it all off and not miss anything to be honest, but what they have is really done well and fits the game.

So how does this scrolling shooter control? Quite well actually. The controls on this game, coupled with the Vita, make the experience fun and I never once had my hands cramp up from where they had to sit while I was playing, which has happened with other Vita titles unfortunately. The controls, both touchscreen and stick, work amazingly well, with no lag and precise movements. These are things you want in a scrolling shooter either way. How is it laid out? Well, you’ll be moving around with the left analog stick, your right trigger controls your ship’s boost which speeds your ship through the levels, the touchscreen is used to teleport your ship from open area to open area, and while the option exists to hit a button and then target your jumps, I found it took way too long to do that when I can simply touch the screen and go where I want far quicker. You can launch off bombs by hitting a button and then target those with your left analog stick or simply just by firing them off in the direction you want with the right analog stick, which works much better. Most of the time, I don’t even use my ships blasters, I just fire bombs off using the analog stick.

2013-07-03-161338The basic gameplay of the vertical scrolling shooter is here. Move your ship around the screen, firing at enemies as you go, avoid getting hit with their weapons and colliding with them or other obstacles and make it to the end of the level. What sets this apart from other vertical scrolling shooters is definitely the Quarp Jet’s teleportation, your ship’s boost to control the scrolling a bit, and being able to drop Warp Gates in some levels to let you move quickly through them to disable the security systems. Also, a complete lack of any kind of boss fight is interesting, as instead, you’ll be looking at getting around an obstacle quickly or taking out a horde of the attacking aliens so you can get around them and out.

The levels are all designed to get more complicated as you go, with the last ten levels really incorporating everything you’ve learned by going through the rest of them and providing a challenge. The layouts are really well done, as well as the puzzles, and the fact that the faster you do a level the better your score really prompts you to remember where things are and how to get to them as fast as possible to try for that perfect score. You’re graded on three things in each level: speed, survivors rescued, and enemies taken out. There’s a bare minimum for speed and survivors rescued each level, and it varies depending on what the set-up is, and you get awarded your experience and medal based on how you did. The overall experience you’ve earned determines how far you can progress in the game. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to go back a few times and redo some of my earlier levels, and even some later ones, to get enough experience to unlock those last four or five levels either.

Blazin_TrailsSecurity systems are a basic forcefield that pop up around areas, and sometimes even turrets, so you can’t get past or can’t rescue survivors without taking them down. There are numbered breakers that you have to take out in order to take down these fields, and doing them out of order will reset them. Some levels get far more intricate with this than others, and you end up having to drop warp gates to get all of them down. Usually these aren’t tied to speed runs, but when they are, things get very dicey, but in a good way. Teleporting around is a blast and easy to do with the touchscreen, but by default this option is turned off. I recommend turning it on before you even start. Some people might find the aim method preferable, but I think it’s faster to tap the screen, and you still do better than aiming if you have to drop your hand off one of your analog sticks. If you’re teleporting, chances are you’re not firing off your bombs anyway, so use that thumb instead.

There are smashable areas in the levels that can be shot, but most are arranged so you have to let loose with your explosives. There are weapon upgrades in most levels that only last for so long as you use them, but can be boosted by wiping out whole groups of alien invaders. There are also health boosts that can keep you alive. Your ship does take some punishment before it goes, and this helps extend that a bit.

2013-07-03-171239When this was a Mini title they created a Medal system for it to emulate the Trophies you’d normally get on a Vita or PS3 title. These are all still here, and some do have trophies tied with them now as well. Not all of them are for making it through a level, as some are for perfecting a level, taking out enemies, discovering secret areas, completing side missions… you get the idea. There’s also leaderboards for those who like to rank themselves. Coupled with the fun gameplay, the level scoring, the side missions, the trophies and the minesweeper minigame, you’ve got a bit of replayability built into this one.

Balance-wise, you’re getting quite a bit of content for your money. With fifty levels, twenty unlockable side missions, and a minesweeper mini-game, you’re looking at ten hours of content at minimum for your money. While this isn’t expanded beyond what you get with the Mini, I do think it’s still good bang for your buck, and while the Mini is even better, this looks prettier and plays better on the Vita. The game does have a steady progression and a nice mix of levels and design to keep it from getting too stale. Sometimes it can seem a bit repetitive, but it’s not too bad, as the levels are relatively short, as the developers must’ve realized most of us would be playing this on a handheld and not at home console before it got converted into a Vita only title.

HedonistSeeing as this is not just a port, but a complete visual overhaul with some control option additions, this is still not the original title, but I will say that as far as ideas go, they’ve included some original ones with this title, even if it’s just an upscale of Velocity. The teleporting and level design, coupled with the warp gates and boost, were great ideas that really make this a joy to play and add a level of fun to the genre that you didn’t really have before. While it is something we’ve seen already, it was my first encounter with it here, as I hadn’t played the Mini title before I got my hands on this version. If you haven’t played the Mini version, this will be fresh and new, and if you have, the visuals, trophies, control options and leaderboard may be tempting. Personally I’d go for it, even if I had the Mini.

This game is very addictive in a good way. From trying to better your personal score, to getting enough experience to unlock new levels, finding the hidden missions, and so on, I lost plenty of time just having a blast in this game. They’ve done a great job with the balancing, and even when levels are tough, I never felt like I was defeated or wanted to quit. I knew I could get through it, and sometimes it was by the seat of my pants, but it happened. This is the vertical shooter I wish I’d had as a kid, as it’s not nearly as punishing as, say, 1942, but it’s just as much fun, and I’m much better at this one, especially since I don’t have to sink quarters into it and get three lives per level instead of the whole game.

2013-07-03-170951The Vita has seen a few new titles, but it’s in a bit of dry spell, and this is a nice refresher. Granted, it’s a title that we’ve seen as a Mini, but it’s a revamp for the Vita, and there are people who don’t have Plus accounts, and those that do that missed out on the Mini the first go around. The price is fantastic for what you’re getting, content wise, and it won’t break your memory card either, as it only takes up a small chunk of space. It plays amazingly well, and I think shoot em up fans will love a new take on the genre.

While I really like this game, I did have a few problems. I can’t figure out how to change my wallpaper in the flight computer for the trophy. The option doesn’t seem to exist, so I have no idea if I just haven’t unlocked it or what. The other was that, in one of the levels where you have the opportunity to go sideways while it’s scrolling vertically so you can get to another area, my screen locked in position so I couldn’t do that and I was stuck and died. I was able to redo the level without a hitch afterwards, and couldn’t replicate the error, but I wasn’t imagining it so it could happen again. Other than that, the game has been a blast. It loads fast, isn’t bogged down with a ton of stuff, and they let you blow up the credits in a min-game after you beat it. What’s not to love?

Short Attention Span Summary
Velocity Ultra is the vertical shooter I needed but didn’t know I wanted right now. It has a great set of mechanics that make it stand out in a crowd, and the HD treatment of the visuals to make it Vita native over the Mini release of Velocity from last year really help define the game visually with a unique style. Rather than just upscale it, they’ve added Vita only controls with the touchscreen and extra analog stick, and they really add to the game, making it more fun to play on top of adding leaderboards and trophies for those that love them. Is it worth picking up if you already have the Mini? Yes. Is it worth picking up if you like shoot em ups? Definitely.

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