Sometimes, as a writer in the gaming industry, you are forced to play a game that you would never choose to play otherwise. What people new to the business expect is AAA title after AAA title, Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid every single day. The reality is different, and you sometimes find yourself playing something that you decide nobody else is likely to ever play by choice. It’s your job to review something fairly and knowledgeably without bias as to where it came from or who made it. So long ago, when I was given a review code (as a joke) from my then editor-in-chief for a game called Coconut Dodge, I went in with an open mind and found myself met with one of the best games on the PSP.
Flash forward nearly two years and Coconout Dodge developer FuturLab are releasing their second PlayStation Mini: Velocity. Velocity, like Coconut Dodge, is very simple on first look – and just like Coconut Dodge, that simple outlook is a mask, hiding just how much depth the developers have managed to pack away. Looking at screenshots, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just another space shooter: these are ten a pound, especially if you come from a PC background. There’s a twist however, and that twist changes the entire way the game is played. You goal doesn’t only consist of making it to the end of the level, killing enemies and rescuing survivors (although there’s a healthy dose of each), but Velocity goes one step further: teleportation.
Let’s touch on the basics first. Graphically, Velocity is a throw-back to gaming in the late eighties, early nineties. The music, lovingly provided by Killzone alumni Joris de Man, could be straight from the Atari days and, while it looks anything but dated, the world you explore is made up of tiles that could almost be directly out of R-Type or something similar. It’s especially worth checking it out on a Vita screen, where you definitely get a feel for how crisp and colourful the game is. Obviously, it’s best seen on a Vita (or at a push, the PSP) but the image on a TV still looks pretty good, if a little stretched.
There are three types of level in the game: action levels consist of destroying as much of the enemy as possible – be it stationary tanks or bug-like ships – while saving as many survivors as you can; speed levels are a test of dexterity and muscle memory, requiring you to quickly move around a map; and exploration levels, which have you using long-range teleportation in order to find your way to the exit. The speed levels in particular demand skill with local teleportation and quick reactions. Each are different enough that you never feel things are too same-y, while they’re similar enough that you don’t ever feel you need extra skills to complete one sort of stage over another.
Teleportation is simple to use but quite difficult to do justice in writing. You have two options: you can teleport wherever you want on the screen simply by pressing the square button and moving the reticule, or you can drop a beacon to which you can return at any time. The former will help you look cool while dodging enemy fire, and may even come in handy while traversing past pipes and walls (and you may even come across some hidden items only accessible with crafty use of local teleportation), while the latter can be a life-saver if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, or if you have a large area to explore and lots of optional people to rescue.
None of this innovative use of motion really means anything if the level design doesn’t back it up, and more than a few indie titles have become boring quickly because they’ve focussed on doing something different but forgotten to make it fun. Velocity manages to deftly dodge this problem by being an awesome game in its own right, and probably would be even without the ability to zip around the place whenever you fancy it. The levels are fun, the gameplay is addictive, and you’ll find yourself hooked before long. Add the teleport mechanic, however, and you’ve got yourself something completely unexpected: a title that’s as impressive to think of technically as it is fun to play.
PlayStation Mini …
also one of the best
on the Vita”
And FuturLab have been sure not to limit the fun by creating only a small amount of levels or having it all come to an end after a certain point. There are a huge number of levels from which to choose, harder levels being unlocked as you improve your cumulative score. Each score you get on each level can be improved upon, and part of the fun is getting top marks. As you explore, you can unlock further levels and mini-missions, and if you get bored of space flight and battle, there’s an included game on Minesweeper and a calculator for writing 5138008 on – the fun never ends. There are some great surprises in Velocity and no doubt getting them all will keep you playing for hours and hours.
Velocity is not only the best PlayStation Mini available, but it’s also one of the best games available on the Vita. Currently downloadable for free through PlayStation Plus and available to regular users over coming weeks, Velocity is a game more than worth your time and money. While some may be put off by its release under the Minis brand and its retro feel, even the naysayers would have to admit this is a pretty important game and, I think, something that may end up as an important stepping stone for both FuturLab and for future entries in the shoot-‘em-up genre.