Release Date: 09/02/2014
When I got to review Velocity Ultra for the Vita last year, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. One of the other writers had played it as a mobile game, when it was just Velocity, and so I knew it was a scrolling shooter, but it ended up being so much more. By adding in teleporting mechanics and some really interesting puzzle solving, Futurlab mixed up the genre and made Velocity Ultra into one hell of a game for my favorite handheld. So naturally I was excited they were working on a sequel, and I’ve been plugging in whenever I could to see snippets of the new gameplay they’ve introduce, and I have to say what they’ve done with their game for the sequel has blown me away. Velocity 2X is a must have for the Vita, and I’m betting the same goes for the PS4, and I’ll be sure to pick that up when I get one. Let’s take a look at the system I actually own and why you should be getting this one if you own a Vita as well.
The game’s story picks up where the first one left off, where our heroine Lt. Kai Tana was used, along with her Quarp Jet, to close off the black hole that had left humanity stranded at the hands of the alien invaders. Her ship was recovered with her aboard and the aliens that recovered her, the Vokh, decide to do a little experimentation and bring her back from the brink of death with tech implants, as well as try to figure out her ship. With the help of a slave race and her new friend Hjun Ralan III, Kai ends up freed and steals her Quarp Jet, rescues her new found friend and sets off to find a way home, but also to help the people that saved her the best she can. The leader of the Vokh military, General Glaive, is after Kai, and is using any and all means to get her and the Quarp Jet back before she makes any more of a fool out of him in front of his Empress. To say the story in Velocity 2X is far more involved than the one in Velocity Ultra would be an understatement. Told through great artwork and character and text pop-ups you’d find in an RPG, the story plays out fantastically across the course of the game, and while you can see some of the plot points coming a mile away, Kai and her friends dialogue more than makes up for it. I was disappointed a bit in the ending, as it’s almost just as abrupt as Ultra‘s, however it does set it up beautifully for a third game and does so without yanking the rug out from under you.
The developers have done a great job keeping the artwork and look of the game feeling like it’s tied into the first, but at the same time have done some really amazing things with it as well. The visuals move along perfectly with your play, the effects have a great pop to them that works well with that you’re doing on screen, and I loved the way they used the RPG method of characters and dialogue popping up to tell the overall story for the game. The transition from flying in the jet to running on foot is handled well, and there’s this great depth when you’re on foot that makes these areas feel large and ongoing, even when you’re in tighter walkways. This helps the whole game feel like you’re dealing with something epic, which perfectly fits the story they’re telling. For audiophiles, the ship noises and effects are great in this, but what really shines for me is the game’s music. Futurlab brought Joris de Man back for this and expanded his musical duties, and the results are fantastic. If you want a taste, you can find lots of samples online through Futurlab even before you get the game. It completely fits with the increased scale of the game, and fits just about every level as you race through it.
The controls are set up so that you move your ship and Lt. Kai with the left analog stick. The right analog stick handles aiming for Lt. Kai on foot. Teleporting can be done with the touchscreen when you’re flying with the ship, or you can use the Square button to activate it, aim where with the analog stick and release the Square to trigger it. Bombs can be flung with the right analog stick or by pressing the Circle button. If you’re into more conventional shooting, the X button will be your friend as the main ships cannon firing button. The Left trigger brings up the map of the area which pauses the mission timer. The Right trigger fires off your ship’s boost and works as your sprint button when you’re on foot. Last but not least, the Triangle button drops a telepod, and double-tapping that button will take you to the most recent telepod drop. This all feels fairly natural, and the only thing that wears on me are long playing times. The Vita does fit my hands better than the PSP ever did, but controller fatigue does set in at some point, which can happen to just about anyone. The controls being similar for on foot and in space play really help make things just flow, and it was definitely a great idea to keep them so close, so players wouldn’t go out of their minds. Speaking of the on foot sections, there are some additional controls. The Circle button controls your rifle firing, the X button is your jump button, and the Right analog stick controls 360 degree firing arcs for Kai. Teleporting on foot is handled manually, like the option on the ship, using the Square button, but you can and will have to aim your Teledash, as it’s called, in numerous levels while sometimes simply hitting the button at a sprint will get you through that bad guy or wall ahead of you. The Triangle button gets an added function when you’re on foot; while it’s still tied to the telepods, it adds in aiming to throw your telepods to cover distances and to ricochet off of obstacles to get you where you want to go. Letting go fires the pod off, so you can trigger it in mid-flight if needed. Believe me, it will be needed.
While story actually plays a much bigger role this time around for the Velocity series, the game’s bread and butter last time was gameplay, and that’s very much the case this time as well, though the burden is lessened with the excellent story. Futurlab hasn’t let up in the gameplay department, though, and brought their A game with this one. The gameplay is perfect on the Vita and just feels like a game you want to keep playing, which I have. The Quarp jet areas are much like they were in the first game. You’re flying through areas and can shoot through some obstacles, but others you have to teleport around. Some levels are pretty intricate with their puzzles, requiring you to drop a pod to teleport back to an earlier part of the level, so that you can go after the other side of the map to open up the barrier blocking you. You’ve got an array of weaponry at your disposal, and when you replay earlier levels, you can bring that final level ship you’ve built up back to sweep through and help you get that perfect score. You still are collecting pods like in the first game, this time with the alien race that’s helping you stuck inside of them. As you play through the levels, you do get access to niftier toys to take out your enemies, which is great and all, tagged by the crystals you collect on foot. But what about that whole on foot platforming bit? It’s glorious.
Futurlab has managed to raise the bar with Velocity 2X by adding in the on foot portion of the levels, which are spaced throughout the fifty different levels you get access to, not including the hidden ones. The idea is that some areas have access points that you get to by flying your Quarp Jet into them, essentially docking so you can hop out on foot as Lt. Kai to find that switch you need to shoot to get access to another area, or in some cases, merely to get access to some more crystals to help aid in your upgrades. You can actually get a bad score for skipping these or a failing one for not collecting enough crystals. These crystals are embedded in the walls and floors, and you collect them simply by opening fire on them and picking them up as you run by. If you get good, you can sprint through an area, firing your weapon at the crystals before you get to them, and pick them up as they drop on you. There are varying enemy types you have to shoot to destroy, but the one that I loved to fight due to their high challenge were the guards who had personal shields that required you to teleport through them to disable the shields before you could hurt them. There are a lot of obstacles to get around, and your teleport works almost the same way with obstacles and blocked walls on foot as it does in the jet. You even get pods you can place to teleport back to, and you’ll have to do that in a number of levels if you’re hoping to get anywhere.
None of the on foot areas are exactly the same, and they vary things up nicely depending on which planet your mission is taking place on. One of my favorite levels involves some seriously good timing with the teleport gun and impossibly high looking jumps. The game also includes some physics in here as well, as you can toss teleport pods on foot through obstacles like heating elements that kill you on touch, so when they land past that you just teleport to that pod. The developers have done a great job with this, and even give some good hints in a few levels of where it’d be good to stand and where to ricochet your pod off of to complete a teleport. The on foot action is just as frantic and fast paced as the Quarp Jet play, so if you thought that it would slow things down, you were thinking wrong. You do have some time to explore here and there, but not if you’re going for that perfect score.
One of the really neat things in Velocity 2X, though, was the effect of flying the Quarp Jet in combat combined with the on foot portions that they’ve placed into boss battles. Oh yeah, boss battles. They’re fast paced, frenetic and kind of insane on a scale I love. You usually have to take out some kind of shielding on the boss’s ship using the Quarp Jet, then fly in towards the dock, hop out and run through the level doing as much damage on foot as you can before hopping back in the jet to finish the boss off. It was a really clever way to tie the on foot platforming in with the Quarp Jet, and it’s practically seamless. They’ve definitely combined the scrolling shooter and the platformer together in a way I haven’t quite seen before, but I can tell you this, I look forward to more in the series from them if it plays out that way.
Velocity 2X has replayability in spades. While each of the fifty levels of play, not including the hidden levels you can unlock, vary in length, they’re all pretty quick to play through which follows with the name of the game. But rushing through you’re bound to miss things and of course the game keeps track of things to grade you on your run through your level as well as providing points to unlock levels as you play through the game. Do you need to play every level perfectly to beat the main storyline? No, but it will provide enough of a challenge to keep you coming back to try and do better or even to perfect the level which is yet another marker on your score for each level on top of the others. Then of course there are the trophies as well. Good luck on a lot of those. I see many sore thumbs in many players futures. As far as balance goes, I don’t know what Velocity 2X is going to cost as they’ve been mum on that, but if it’s anywhere near the price range of Velocity Ultra on release it’s a very solid investment for not only play time, but a decent story with some great game mechanics. Expect to take between five and ten hours just to beat the main campaign let alone the hours you can spend trying to perfect your levels or unlock the bonus maps to play through. The game does increase in difficulty as you go, throwing new and decidedly different enemies and obstacles in your way as you go as well as mixing up the boss fights so no two feel quite the same or play out the same.
That brings us to originality. While they do a lot of neat things with the gameplay, definitely mixing things up from what they did with the first game to add that into platforming mechanics that work with the scrolling shooter is fantastic. It’s not quite anything like I’ve played before and yet reminds me of a number of games. The story line is a bit of this and that though and if you’ve seen a lot of sci-fi it’s a tale you’ve seen told many different ways before. This is definitely their take on it though and it’s definitely unique in that regard. The designs, level and enemy, work really well towards selling that and some amazing artwork for their backdrops when the story is moving on helps sell it even more. Which leads me into how wonderfully addictive this game was. My Vita has been languishing for months before this came out, mainly because I’m still trying to get through Fire Emblem Awakening on my 3DS and keep getting distracted by side missions. Since I’ve gotten this I’ve not only been playing my Vita more, but it got me back to other Vita games I hadn’t finished yet and so I’m back to that. There have been a few nights where I’m not ashamed to admit I spent playing Velocity 2X trying to either beat my scores, play further along in the missions, or hunt around for those hidden levels until two or three in the morning when I was getting up around six. There was coffee involved those days. It’s a great game to get sucked into and the story and gameplay have a lot to do with that.
With all the positive buzz around the first game, it’s easy to see it around this one as well. Coming to the PS4 and the Vita at the same time is a very nice bonus for those that have both, but I’m especially happy that it’s coming to the Vita as that’s where I fell in love with the first game. It’s another great entry into the Vita catalog of games and one that uses the touchscreen well without leaving a player in tears if they want to use the basic aiming controls instead. It’s a great game, and so far it’s high on my list of games I’ve played this year. I did hit a few bugs but one can be attributed to it being an advance copy as it tied to the trophies which aren’t technically active yet. Another one I couldn’t hit the touch screen to teleport in one level and had to use the manual controls. It’s buried so deep in between the levels I couldn’t tell you which one, but other than those two issues, it was a blast to revisit the Velocity series again and to see what they did with their teleportation and shooting mechanics and putting them into a platforming environment. It’s fun and fast and well worth it. And if you have PS Plus, this one is coming out to both Vita and PS4 for free and should definitely be added to your downloads as soon as possible.
Short Attention Span Summary
Tossing in a new genre to the mix of your already successful game series can be a risky move. Luckily Futurlab didn’t just manage to squeak by with combining platforming and ground based action into their space shooter, but the on foot action flows and ties together perfectly with what’s going on when you’re in your ship blasting through levels. The story is more intricate than the previous entry in the series, the art is still amazing, there’s essentially more to do with the added platforming despite being the same number of levels, and the music is fantastic. If you like shooters or you like platformers or if you happen to enjoy both, you will absolutely love this game and if you have a Vita or a PS4 you really should pick it up. Game of the Year contender? Definitely. Something you should pick up just because it’s fun? Absolutely.
Tags: Futurlab, Velocity, Velocity 2X, Velocity Ultra