Review: Vertigo (Sony PSP)

Publisher: Icon Games
Developer: Icon Games
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 03/15/2011

I’ll admit, when I first saw the title of this game, the U2 song by the same title came to mind (and stayed there).

Hello, Hello (¡Hola!)
I’m at a place called Vertigo (¿Dónde está?)

OK, I’ll stop.

Vertigo the game was initially released on the PC and Wii back in 2009 in Europe, though only the Wii version made it here. The PSP version was released in Europe and Australia as Spinout. Now it’s made its way to the PSN under its original name. Let’s see how it is.

The premise is rather basic: you’re an Xorber and you race around on increasingly Byzantine courses in a rolling ball called an Xorb. That’s it. There’s no exposition – you don’t even race against anyone else. Of course, no one plays racing games for riveting narrative, so the lack of any substantial plot isn’t much of a detriment in this case. There are four single player modes: Arcade, Career, Practice, and Time Trial. In Arcade mode you race to reach the end before time runs out and unlock courses laid out in branching paths. Career mode involves completing six courses on each planet to unlock others and earning manna points to customize your Xorb. Practice mode lets you pick a course and go through it, and it provides a chance to acclimate yourself to the controls and courses. Time Trial mode has you run through a course over and over as you try to beat your previous best time. A fifth mode, Xorb Bowling, can be played either single or multiplayer mode (and is the only multiplayer mode offered), and as the name suggests you guide your Xorb down a lane to hit pins.

The graphics have a sci-fi feel to them, and while they’re functional they lack flash despite the shininess on some courses. The ground around the tracks look flat, and there are times when you’re going through a tunnel and you can still see some of the outside. There’s also the occasional broken polygon. On some courses, everything around me would be quivering, except for when I stop completely. Despite the fact that this is billed as a racing game, you never see any other Xorbs to race against unless you’re in Time Trial mode (and even then that’s just a transparent facsimile of the player who just ran that course), which makes the tracks feel empty. At the very least, you do get plenty of options for customizing your Xorb’s appearance, so if you get tired of its current look you can change it around to something more to your liking. The sight of your Xorb falling off the track and onto the ground actually can also induce a sense of vertigo, depending on your sensitivity to such a thing, thought considering how often it happens it just gets boring after a while waiting for it to finish its fall (and subsequent explosion) so that you can continue from your last checkpoint.

The soundtrack has a techno feel to it, but like the graphics they’re fairly bland and not memorable. Some tracks would skip or quit playing randomly (and would also stop when you brake), which gets a bit distracting, but there is the option of turning the music volume down or muting it altogether. The sound effects work for the most part and haven’t glitched even when the background music does, though the sound when the Xorb collides with the pins in bowling sounds hollow and sound more like empty plastic bottles being hit than actual pins. There’s also a digitalized voice that chimes in when you’re running out of time or to comment on your throw in bowling.

The controls are simple: X boosts, O brakes, triangle gives you an overhead view, and the shoulder buttons swivel the camera left and right. You can use the directional pad or analog stick for moving the Xorb forward, though the latter allows for far smoother handling. The controls are mostly responsive, especially the brakes (which is good, because it can stop you from falling over the edge if you time it right). However, the boost takes some momentum and distance to kick in. Sometimes the camera angle can make it difficult to see where you’re jumping to, which makes it more difficult to position yourself so that you can successfully land that jump. Swivelling the camera around does help, though the overhead camera usually doesn’t give you much of a view and can be disorienting to switch to.

The idea is to guide the ball to the end. It’s reminiscent of Marble Madness in that you guide the ball through tracks and reach the end as quickly as possible, though you navigate courses built much like race tracks rather than the more open and maze-like courses. There are obstacles like barrels and boxes that block your path, though those can be easily knocked over or pushed aside, as well as bumpers like what you might see in pinball. Unlike in Marble Madness you never encounter any enemies. It also bears some resemblance to Super Monkey Ball in terms of the layout of the courses, though instead of tilting the world to move the ball around, you’re moving the ball itself.

You can redo courses you’ve already done to earn medals and beat your previous times. However, every course on a planet looks so similar that it can get monotonous to play through them all at once. Unlocking all the tracks, bowling stages, and themes with which to decorate your Xorb will take a good chunk of time. There is that sense of accomplishment upon unlocking something, which is one thing that can keep you coming back to this game. That aspect did keep me going in this game, and I’d replay courses until I managed to earn medals. However, I did the latter less as the courses got more convoluted and tricky to get through. I would still keep retrying courses I failed to complete the first time around, but for some I did reach a point where I needed a break. When I did manage to get through them, though, I did get the urge to keep going and clear more.

The courses start off on the easier side, but then get more and more challenging. While some courses have shortcuts, and in some cases the end is positioned right near the beginning, if you don’t hit the checkpoints before reaching the end, you’ll just get a “Level Failed” message and have to redo the course. As I’ve mentioned, you will fall a lot, and it can be hard to find your way around in harder courses. While this isn’t so bad in Career Mode, where the only consequence of taking too long is not earning a medal and Manna Points, this proves detrimental in Arcade Mode, where you fail if you don’t reach the end before time runs out. The concept of being able to tweak various parameters of your Xorb is a fine one in and of itself, it was poorly executed here, as I was able to max out every parameter after doing just a few courses. I didn’t notice much of a difference in performance before and after maxing everything. A scarce amount of powerups are scattered around the courses, but they’re virtually indistinguishable from each other, their effects are indiscernible, and it’s not explained anywhere what each of them do, either ingame or in a manual (which this game didn’t come with). In addition, in bowling the ball feels a lot bouncier than and seems to graze the pins as it bounces up instead of go straight and actually knock more of them down.

Given that this has already been released several times before, it’s hard to call this original. This is the first time this game has made it over here, so it does have that going for it. There also haven’t been an abundance of other games like this where you control a ball . However, it’s questionable how many people this would actually appeal to. At $10, it’s not exorbitant, but it is a bit on the high end given that the Wii version can be had for the same price or lower, so people might feel less inclined to make the leap, especially given those who do have the Wii version won’t find anything new here. You do at least get a good amount of unlockables to occupy your time with for that Alexander Hamilton.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Decent
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Decent

Short Attention Span Summary
Vertigo basically plays like Marble Madness with shades of Super Monkey Ball, and the combination turned out fine for the most part. However, it’s not as polished as it could’ve been. It has technical glitches, namely background music that skips or stops altogether randomly. Even though this is a racing game, you never really race against anyone, which makes everything feel empty, and options for multiplayer play are scant. The physics in the bowling mode feel floaty, so don’t expect a realistic simulation there. That being said, it’s a decent racer, and you could do worse.



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