Thursday, July 18, 2013

REVIEW - Velocity Ultra.

Velocity Ultra is a top-down "teleportation shoot 'em up" from FuturLab, a proud, small dev team from Great Britain who've been slowly building a name for themselves with tiny but well-designed games for Sony's PlayStation Mobile platform (basically Sony certification for smartphone games).

Last year, Velocity was... well, the PlayStation Mobile game that made folks say "hey, PlayStation Mobile games may not all suck."  Velocity Ultra is the Vita-native HD up-port of that little gem.

Let's dig in.  But before we do, it bears mentioning that me reviewing Velocity Ultra is a bit like me reviewing Madden 2013.  Shoot 'em ups are not a genre I'm deeply familiar with - I lost all my quarters to pure frustration with the arcade cabinet for 1942 in like, '88, and I enjoyed Sine Mora up 'til the laser garbage chute - so I can't really speak to the game's sensation within that context, or its mechanics when compared to the history of its form.

That said, is it worth $7.50?

It was for me.

First off, Velocity Ultra is an eminently mobile game.  It's been pure-bred for bite-sized noshes when chilling on the subway or squatting across a toilet seat, but its play is sharp enough that each of the game's fifty little levels can be utterly mastered when sprawled on the couch with a touch of patience, practice and an itchy trigger finger.

Again, while I look to like this genre, no title I've ever tried has actually gotten its hooks into me, and driven me to keep at it - 'till Velocity Ultra.

This can be entirely attributed to its simple, sharply-honed controls and excellent design, which utilizes a lean collection of solid, intuitive mechanics.  The game doesn't even have a dozen enemy types, and the little weapon pickups so common in these games only appear when you're about to face an enemy that really requires it.

Rather like a bullet hell game without the bullet hell, Velocity Ultra is more about movement than anything, due to its two twists on the standards - the player can "boost" the normal scroll speed by holding R1 in order to zip through levels as fast as possible (which is often the only rout to success), and your ship can teleport through solid matter via either a targeted reticle (hold down square, sweep the analog stick to the desired location and release) or a simple screen tap.

The reticle sweep is actually far faster and more comfortable than you'd expect, and within minutes you find yourself bamfing through the laws of physics, blitzing across its honeycombed levels with an ease of use I've never really found in my limited experience with the genre.

As alien as the genre is, to me, this game is really comfortable to play.

One feels less like an observer in Velocity, and its limited toolset - X to shoot blasters, circle and a direction on the analog stick to fling a bomb, square to teleport, R1 to boost - provides a deceptively rich degree of agency on the part of the player.

Appearing in a flash within a swooping formation of enemy ships and holding down the fire button to take them out from the inside, apparating between a cluster of laser turrets, flinging bombs this way and that in a quick dance of movement before disappearing just as their projectiles would hit you... it works really well.

What holds Velocity together, though, is the canny design and gentle slope to its challenge.  The game takes several levels to patiently introduce its mechanics and ensure you're comfortable with them before - at around level 8 (of fifty) - it demands you break out your entire arsenal of abilities in a single exercise.

I allows the tone of its 'play to warble back and forth, with one sprawling level asking you to take your time, unlock all force fields and rescue all survivors while the next may task you with rocketing through an area as fast as possible.  With repeated gentle bends to its requests of the player, Velocity doesn't deign to bore with repetition - which you'd think would be a threat for a game in which every level looks much like the last.

It starts off very gently, and ends on a razor's edge no-screw-ups-allowed challenge that would have seemed utterly impossible at the onset of the game.

Great design, great controls and gameplay, satisfying challenge, lots of replayability (if you want to really master all 50 levels), a catchy soundtrack, acceptable presentation... and a real solid fun factor.

Thumbs up.  Nice job, FuturLab.

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