It came from outer space…
The past 24 hours or so have been racking my brain. I’m not usually a fan of 2D shooters, and yet my life outside of the real world in the last few days has been almost completely consumed. Never before have I played a game that costs so little and gives so much. Velocity is well known as the best PlayStation Minis title out there. It’s been heralded as near perfection, and hearing that it is a shooter I chose not to bother with it, thinking it wouldn’t appeal to me. My friends, I can now reveal that I have officially had my humble pie and eaten it.
Developed by FuturLab as their second title, following the massive success of Coconut Dodge (which is also getting a Vita release soon) Velocity has captured the hearts of many people. This HD reimagining on the Vita contains a new art style, a huge visual overhaul and a general nip and tuck to make the game even closer to perfection. Having never played the original I came to Velocity Ultra as a fresh set of eyes, and I can honestly say I have never in my life been so hooked and blown away by such a full-on, varied and rich experience in a shooter that is both simple and horrendously addictive. At heart Velocity Ultra is a shooter that tells a story of war as you travel through space as the last chance of humanity. While this isn’t the most original of stories it’s told well through visually striking storybook images and mission briefs. There are several types of mission which are displayed and explained through icons in the briefing and also by the first set of levels which help ease you into the mechanics of the game. Controlling your ship is very responsive and accurate, and uses the left stick. Firing your weapon is done by using the X button and automatically sends a constant stream of bullets while pressed. The screen automatically scrolls and you constantly move upwards but have complete control over your positioning on screen so you’re not forced to stay at the bottom all the time. Using the right trigger can speed up the scrolling of the screen and is vital for gaining a good time in missions. As you continue deeper into the game you are also given access to a short range teleport which instantly transports you anywhere you move the icon on screen by holding square. Further levels allow you to shoot bombs by using either the circle button and aiming or (my preferred method) using the right stick to fire, and even later on long range teleports allow you to warp back to previous areas in the map by dropping pods at parts of the map where the paths branch off.
Does this sound a bit bewildering? Honestly it’s not, as the game does a fantastic job of hand holding through the first set of missions. I have to admit; when I started playing I was getting a perfect score on every level. I did start to wonder how difficult things would get in later stages and I wasn’t at all disappointed. While the first levels are easy, later levels resemble bullet hell shooters and have devious force fields that can only be shut down by shooting several switches in number order, often dotted about throughout stages. A map is introduced later in the game which proves vital to manage the often labyrinth-like level design. The levels are set out into different types and this is how Velocity Ultra manages pacing in what could become boring over the vast, 50 levels on offer. Missions vary from Search and Rescue which involve mainly finding and saving survivors, to Hostile Forces which play out more like traditional scrolling shooters and Critical Urgency missions that have very tight time limits and require boosting through the majority of the stage to finish on time. As you get further into the game the mission types blend into each other and become a lot more complex. By the last few levels I was struggling to finish without dying, let alone getting a decent score.
Scoring is important in Velocity Ultra not just for online leaderboards but because your score in each level awards XP which is in turn used to unlock later levels. Your three main objectives are to complete the level in as short a time as possible, to rescue all survivors and getting as high a score as possible which is given for killing enemies and collecting pickups. You can if you choose aim for each of these individually and still get the XP however you are also graded bronze, silver or gold depending how well you perform and a “perfect” gold ranking can only be achieved by getting the fastest time, rescuing all survivors AND getting the top score. Many of the trophies are tied to the perfect ratings and this greatly helps with replay value as you retry levels over and over to aim for that perfect score. To perfect every single level will be a monumental task for even the best players out there, and is something I can only dream of achieving (for now at least!). Levels also have hidden bonus areas and icons which are not always shown on the map, so exploration and sections involving extremely tight teleportation are fairly frequent. The game also does a good job of creating claustrophobic, maze like sections just as often as wide open spaces with loads of enemies and bullets flying everywhere, further adding to the sense of variety.
Having played Velocity Ultra a considerable amount it’s hard to find fault with anything on offer here. Very rarely I teleported and became stuck in a wall, but you can teleport out again so this isn’t a particularly big issue. The game gets very hard in later stages and so novice players could find it a bit bewildering, but the truth is the learning curve is so perfectly balanced that the difficulty increases in a very gradual way, and challenges players to improve their technique and reactions to proceed. I never hit a brick wall or difficulty spike that couldn’t be beaten by learning some of the level layout or enemy wave patterns, and I never felt frustrated or cheated when I died; it was always down to me and never a flaw within the game’s mechanics. Truth is no matter how hard Velocity Ultra gets, you’re so sucked into its intense world that you never stop having fun and that’s a very rare quality to find in a game. Everything is so polished, so refined and so amazingly cleverly designed that it’s impossible not to like, even if you’re not into 2D shooters (I’m certainly not usually a fan).
Graphically as I’ve mentioned the game has a very stylised and vibrant direction to it. Textures, enemies and enemy fire are easily distinguishable and also bright and vibrant in a way that makes the game a joy to behold. The screenshots really don’t do it justice as there’s often so many effects popping and things flying around at once it’s often hypnotic. The frame rate is fast and the action frantic and it never falters. I haven’t found a single moment where the game engine has stuttered or slowed down in any way at all. The in game music is also fantastic, with catchy, spacey electro tunes playing in the background that fit in perfectly with the in game action and are never get boring or become obtrusive. Sound effects are also good and enemies and force fields as well as the switches needed to shut them down are all colour coded in bright colours to avoid confusion and are clearly numbered. The in game HUD is very clear and the borders of the screen will flash red when you are near death or blue when prompted to drop a long range teleport pod. Your on screen score is also actively updated with tiny messages at the bottom giving brief messages as to your progress and any bonuses you have achieved. Also, power-ups which are picked up are shown at the bottom of the screen to display how many special bullets you have left (which can be topped up by killing an entire wave of enemies).
As you may have guessed by now, I have found it practically impossible to find fault with Velocity Ultra. It puts many full priced releases to shame with its wealth of content and attention to detail. Part of me wonders what the guys at Futurlab were smoking when they set the price and even allowed it to be free for PlayStation plus subscribers this month. Futurlab have shown that with an obsessive attention to detail, level design and game mechanics, you really can fine tune gameplay to near perfection. It truly doesn’t get much better than this. Perfect controls, brilliant visuals, a catchy as hell soundtrack, incredible level design and an enormous amount of content with a full trophy set including a platinum (yes I bang on about them but I’m a bit of a trophy whore) make for one of the best games we’ll see this year undoubtedly. I can’t recommend Velocity Ultra highly enough.