Platform/Version: PS3/PSP/PS Vita
Gotta speed, keed!
If there's anyone here unfamiliar with the concept of a PS Mini, here it is: imagine app games like you get on other mobile devices, except developed for Playstation hardware. That's about the long and short of it. This isn't meant to be derogatory towards them, of course not: the fact that they're super-cheap means they're easy on gamers' wallets, and that they can more often than not be a place for really small indie developers to show off on official Sony Playstation hardware.
Being a bit of a speed freak, normally I trawl these networks and stores for racing games and stuff, so when this shooter called Velocity popped up, the name instantly hooked me. It was a steal at just a couple of bucks, so I bought it. What is Velocity? Well obviously it's a shmup, otherwise my opinions on it wouldn't be here. It's just unlike anything else I was expecting up to that moment.
That's not a bad thing, not at all.
So, what's the story of Velocity? You'd be forgiven for thinking that it would be really simple, and it is, but it explains the main gimmicks of this game beautifully.
The idea is that there's been a major disaster in some region of space which took out ships and space stations and has made them all go haywire. Survivors are drifting amongst the wreckage and trapped as the security and support systems turned on them thanks to this being one of those IFF-hating space disasters you hear so much about and you pilot a ship which is capable of teleportation to go rescue them from the haywire defensive systems, looters, curmudgeonly old people...okay, maybe not that last one. Actually, that's pretty much it.
Summary: 8/10. Yes, it's about as long and involved as a good fart, but it's at least lightweight. I'm not sure I could link it to the graphics either, seeing how little there appears to be to both. Velocity doesn't seem to want to waste its time on things like that, and ends up all the better for it.
Graphics are your typical sprites and a neat trail of light that follows your ship around, tracing its movements. Everything looks like wreckage and debris, so you really do look like you're sweeping through a field of destroyed, burnt stuff trying to rescue people.
Your ship, its attacks, and enemy attacks are all clearly visualized with retro-style graphics, so it's easy to keep track of everything as you zip around these levels. It's a good thing, too, since your job is to speed through every level, collecting everything you can and trying to finish as quickly and cleanly as possible.
The game offers a couple of cutscenes depicting our heroine taking off in the ship and the disaster that kicked this all off (well they're not so much cutscenes as glorified comic panels but hey), and the design of the ship you use, the Quarp Jet, is actually kind of neat. It looks like a ship which is merely a collection of hardware containing a bright, blue ball of energy that obviously lets the ship do all of its neat teleportation tricks and gives it plenty of power to go rushing around at full speed.
Summary: 8/10. They're sprites and pixels, but they're good-looking sprites and pixels. While it's obviously nothing that would blow anybody away, it's super-sharp and makes gameplay easy. Good thing, too, since this game gets demanding later on.
The soundtrack is very retro without intentionally just being chiptune beeps and boops, and uses electronic music with a steady, driving beat, which is about par for the course when it comes to most shmups. It doesn't try to bowl along at a zillion miles per hour like, say, the Raiden Fighters soundtracks, nor is it a slow, abstract exercise in atmosphere and ambiance like the R-Type FINAL soundtrack. It's catchy and characteristic, which makes it good for listening to as you play level after level, which you will thanks to the addictive nature of the game.
The sound effects themselves are what you would sort of expect for a game of this style, with one standout noise being the characteristic teleportation sound when you kick that feature in.
Summary: 8/10. It's functional, it's kind of catchy, it's kind of minimal...yeah, eight is about all I could give it. It doesn't do anything wrong, nor does it just sit there going "I am a soundtrack, I am mandatory."
Here's the real meat of the game-the gameplay. This is where the focus was placed, and rightfully so, since it's practically the whole selling point of the game. Otherwise it's just another shmup.
So, here's the deal. You constantly scroll upwards, which seems kind of odd for a game console family that makes the most of widescreen formats, and have several controls: first, there's the obvious eight-direction movement like in other shmups, and the obligatory front-facing peashooter weapon thing, and controls that allow you to shoot multidirectional bombs off to your sides or rear. Enemy fire damages you, but knocking against the walls won't hurt you unless you get trapped and the screen scrolls you off it. Now let's get to where things get interesting.
The objective of each level isn't to destroy everything in sight, it's to complete objectives. These include completing levels as swiftly as possible and rescuing as many survivors as you can, represented as people in brightly-lit escape pods. To achieve this, you not only have the controls I described above, but you also have a throttle button that lets you scroll even faster through each level to get to the finish faster, and a button you can hold down to aim your teleportation ability for precision warping from place to place. You can only warp to areas that are on the screen at the moment, and they're used to jump through otherwise impassable areas, which lends the game puzzle elements and necessitates a vertical shooter making the most of a wide screen. Objectives and survivors will often be in out-of-the-way places, behind force fields or inside destructible objects, which means players will need a sharp eye and good reflexes to survive levels. Actually perfecting the objectives to get the best scores and times involves flooring the throttle button and chaining together precision jumps, bullet dodges and quick kills of enemy formations in order to collect everything under the par times.
Levels are short, as they're meant to be played over and over again, and there are about fifty of them total. Each one requires players to master the skills they learned early on and build upon them until they're precision puzzle-shmup machines. Everything hinges on pitch perfect execution and level memorization, so the brevity of each level is a relief. Longer levels would probably just have been needlessly irritating to complete if your goal is to get higher scores and try to not die as much.
I don't know what later levels are like myself, having only played through a portion of Velocity, but the game itself promises some funky teleportation-based challenges in the future, and I can hardly wait getting my hands on more of it later.
Summary: 10/10. This is the part the game needed to nail, and it totally did. It's different and familiar all at once and tests those skills that most more traditional shmups present in more direct ways. Far from dodging bullets, it'll have you being fast, precise and pretty damn clever in no time.
It may not have jaw-dropping graphics, a groundbreaking story or an AAA soundtrack, but Velocity is a unique game with great gameplay that deserves the shining reception it's been gathering lately. The only complaint I could level against it is that it's not optimized for the Playstation Vita, but that's set to change later this month with Velocity Ultra. It's my hope that things continue going well for the developers-they're giving the Vita games it desperately needs.
Final Verdict: 9/10 (Not an average of collected scores)
"Enjoy a nice Brown Betty with DEATH! But, but mostly eat death." ~Crow T. Robot~