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Video Game Review: Velocity Ultra

July 23, 2013 | By Herija Green | comment on this post
Velocity Ultra
Velocity Ultra’s simple usage of color is very effective.

It was a little over a year ago that developer FuturLab released Velocity, a PlayStation Mini designed to run across multiple systems, most notably the PlayStation Portable. Now the team is back with a high-definition remake for the Vita entitled Velocity Ultra. Although packed with new features and upgrades, this is still essentially the same game. So is the beefed up version worth getting? Let’s find out.

CONTROLS (4.5/5)

At first blush, Velocity Ultra appears to be a very straightforward, paint-by-numbers shoot ’em up. It doesn’t take long for the game to dispel that notion, though, and it actually turns into a reasonably complex endeavour with quite a bit to keep track of. The screen automatically scrolls from the top down slowly, but you have the ability to boost with the right bumper to make things move much more quickly. You also have a gun and bombs at your disposal to round out your typical armaments.

What makes the game deviate from the norm is the introduction of teleportation as well as the ability to deploy “telepods,” which allow you to warp back to the point you dropped them — it’s an essential tool once pathways start branching off. Those two mechanics allow for more intricate level designs than your standard space shooter, and once you get the hang of it you’ll be teleporting your ship into tight spaces at fast speeds and zooming right back out.

All these tools mean every one of your face and shoulder buttons are in use, though one of the control updates allows you to fire bombs with the right analog stick. On the surface that sounds good, but in practice I actually found it much easier to stick with the face button since your thumb really needs to be there anyway. The other Vita-specific addition is that you can touch the screen to teleport. Again, while solid in theory, it just felt too awkward when juggling so many abilities at once.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Despite the presence of simple backgrounds and rudimentary ships in Velocity Ultra, the game’s use of colour makes this a deceptively pretty game to look at. Both enemies and defensive shields are displayed in red, green, yellow or blue, and it’s really cool to watch the screen fill with their circular, colour-coded projectiles whilst navigating the levels. The teleportation effect is well done, too.

Up-tempo futuristic sounding tunes pump throughout the gameplay while bleeps and bloops let you know when you’ve successfully picked up a life pod. Although there’s nothing memorable in the audio, it’s perfectly competent in every way.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

There’s a background story in place — the year is 2212, you pilot a special ship called the Quarp Jet, you’re fighting an enemy known as the Zetachron — but it’s so unimportant that it’s tucked away in a ancillary area called the Flight Computer. As you’d suspect, the clear focus here is on challenging your reflexes and coordination via increasingly elaborate levels.

To that end, FuturLab has done a very good job by following the tried and true method of steadily introducing new abilities, focusing on them momentarily and then integrating them until you’re comfortable utilizing all the game’s bells and whistles. The goal of each level never wavers: you’re to rescue survivors in their pods and reach the end before time expires. Despite that limited scope, Velocity Ultra stays fresh by constantly mixing and matching its gameplay elements in new ways.

Upon finishing a level your performance is graded on a three-tiered system (bronze, silver and gold) in three separate categories (speed, number of survivors rescued and points). An XP award is given based on which tier you finished in for each of the three areas, so you’ll need to get gold in all of them to receive the maximum available XP for a level. That’s important because it’s your overall XP that dictates whether or not the next level unlocks; I played straight through to the 42nd stage before encountering this, at which point I had to repeat earlier levels and better my performance.

One important item to note is that you don’t need to reach the top tier in all three areas at the same time. For example, if you earned gold for rescuing all the survivors but got bronze for how long it took you can repeat the level and speed through it. Then when you hit the gold time you’ll get that XP bonus without losing your previous work in the survivor rescue department. A “perfect” rating does require you to ace all three aspects at once, but that’s not required to progress.

There are 50 levels in total along with the aforementioned Flight Computer, which contains 20 self-contained bonus missions, and a minesweeper mini game. The bonus missions are unlocked by finding hidden medals during the primary stages. They are much shorter than the standard missions, but they are also less forgiving with abbreviated time limits and walls that cause you to explode.

Although Velocity Ultra does have some issues, all of my complaints are minor ones. Teleporting feels a little too finicky sometimes when a seemingly white reticule (it’s red when you can’t use it) still doesn’t trigger my jump. Boosting can be imprecise as well as the ship seems to get stuck and then leaps from the bottom of the screen to the middle, which can equate to death. Lastly, when deploying more than one “telepod” it can be tricky to select the correct jump point. Yes, you can always jump again, albeit at the cost of a few potentially precious seconds.

OVERALL (4.5/5)

Velocity Ultra is another strong addition to an increasingly potent lineup of titles for the PlayStation Vita. The clever blending of gameplay styles and excellent level design makes revisiting past stages and chasing that elusive perfect run a treat rather than a chore.

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