Velocity Ultra is a tech demo for PlayStation Vita’s versatility.
This full-fledged remake of 2011’s hit mini Velocity is every type of PS Vita experience rolled into a single, utterly compelling LiveArea bubble. Space shooter action with innovative mechanics will push arcade veterans to their breaking point. Trophy support and unlockable goodies fuel the collectors. Leaderboards offer a competitive landscape on par with network giants like Super Stardust Delta and Lumines (with more depth to boot). Infectious electronic music underscores an old-school aesthetic that makes me pine for a Mega Man X sequel on PS Vita. There’s even a story (albeit a very loose one) that ties together action which, frankly, needs no such justification.
Perhaps most importantly, Velocity Ultra is challenging–enough to make the platinum hunt (Ultra’s true endgame) a daunting task worth dozens of hours.
It will take you far less to finish the game at large, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it. For the first couple dozen levels, Velocity Ultra is all about teaching you something. A new mechanic is introduced, complicated, then tested. Zone after zone, you start to realize that Velocity Ultra is different, that the top-down space shooter mask belies a game with much more to say. When you start to nail short-form teleports, you feel empowered. The first time you lay a telepod in an advantageous place without being told to do so, you feel smart. When you perfect a run that develops over several failed attempts, and finally pull it off, you’ll feel like a pro–until you see it was only worth a silver medal. Then you’ll glance at your friends’ high scores, because there’s no motivator more powerful than the allure of digital bragging rights.
My best moments, the ones I wanted to share, were the little things. Nailing a diagonal teleport to a thin corridor while boosting to dodge an enemy projectile. Shooting an off-screen switch to turn off an energy barrier at the tail end of a complex maze I bested with proper telepod placement. Whittling down immense groups of enemies, using a combination of teleports and pulse bursts to come through unscathed. It all sounds like jargon, but you’ll quickly learn Velocity’s vernacular. Holding Square brings up a reticle. Move it to a point on-screen, release–you’ve teleported! Telepods can be set anywhere in a zone for long-distance teleportation used to solve puzzles. The screen is always scrolling, so managing your time and space is paramount–there’s a fast-scrolling feature (R trigger) for that.
You can also tap the touchscreen for short teleports, but the few times I dared ended in disaster. I like my fingers on the buttons, thanks.
For a game with such rapid-fire, one-more-round sensibilities, all these elements serve a great cause. The interplay of different gameplay mechanics adds staggering tactical depth to levels that are quite simple in design. And previous levels feel more thoughtful–full of possibility–when approached with abilities learned in later zones. Simple mechanics and ideas that can be applied in boundless variation to stages that are always a bit deeper on second glance–it’s endless replayability, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to master, and it’s damn fun.
Which makes these brief, super-infrequent moments where the experience breaks down all the more frustrating. Short-form teleport won’t let you teleport into walls–except when it totally does. There’s a sliver of space along the edge of every surface that is open for teleportation, and a second, even smaller sliver that’s not. Because the reticle turns from red to white when pointed at a valid destination, there’s this visual cue that triggers your release of the Square button. In situations where I move my reticle over that sliver of compatible surface, one of two things often happen: I teleport into the wall (getting stuck for a moment) or the teleport fails as the reticle briefly moves into the red zone between sliver and open space. The former is rarely fatal. The latter almost always is.
Thankfully, the honed senses you’ll need to overcome these leaderboard obstacles aren’t needed for the vast majority of the game’s unlockables. Hidden bonus medals, which unlock challenging bonus stages, rarely require more than a careful glance at the stage map and a bit of navigational planning. Other goodies, like concept art, mini-games, and story exposition, seemed to unlock naturally as I advanced through the 50 stages and gathered XP from completing objectives. All these objectives are cut from the same cloth, rewarding you with XP based on stage clear time, number of survivors gathered, and total points.
Survivors? Yeah, your teleporting Quarp Jet is on a mission to save stranded victims of a star explosion, or something. The Zetachron aliens also want you dead. You’ll be having too much fun with Velocity Ultra’s inventive gameplay and infectious soundtrack to care.
There’s a narrative hook missing here, but Velocity Ultra is one of the best examples of a game that just doesn’t need one. So maybe it’s not a send-up of every experience that PS Vita can provide, but the game is living reason for its existence as a platform. Velocity Ultra is pure, unadulterated, 100 percent fun without the frills of excess that distract from what matters: gameplay you can fall in love with, whether you’ve got minutes or hours to spare. And isn’t that what PlayStation Vita is all about?