|System: PS Vita|
|Release: February 15, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Mild Fantasy Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
Believe it or not, a downloadable game that costs $10—or $15 for a bundle that includes four bonus modes—will prove to you how much of a graphical step up the PlayStation Vita is from the handhelds that came before. Super Stardust Delta simply looks amazing, and it plays to the strength of the Vita's unique features. If you haven't bought it yet—or if you signed up for 3G service and annoyingly have to wait 30 days for your free voucher—here's what you're missing out on.
As those of you who owned a PS3 before jumping to the Vita before might know, the Super Stardust franchise is Finnish developer Housemarque 's take on the twin-stick shooter. However, the action doesn't take place on a 2D plane, as it typically does in the genre—instead, you're on a spherical plane surrounding a planet, giving the game a sense of depth. As countless space rocks and alien enemies enter the planet's orbit, you're tasked with eliminating them.
Your targets fall into two broad categories, fire and ice, and so do your ship's guns. While you might think that you'd shoot fire with with your ice guns and vice-versa, you actually use your matching weapon to dispense with bad guys. (Take that, RPGs!) Of course, you also have other weapons, including a dash attack and a bomb that clears enemies within a wide radius. Once in a while, you'll be able to use the game's two new weapons, a black hole and a missile barrage. No, the basic gameplay isn't earth-shattering, but it's amazingly well implemented.
But the presentation is earth-shattering: This game looks and sounds like the Fourth of July. Everything on the screen is brightly colored, a perfect fit for the Vita's high-quality screen. Some of the items pop off of the screen so much it seems as if there's a 3D effect. And whenever something explodes, it lights up the screen like a firework. Every shot that connects is just one more element of the game's cacophony of crackling, burning, and laser noises. My personal favorite is the sound of a firecracker you hear whenever your ice weapon pelts a matched opponent.
The controls work quite well also. If you want, you can stick with the PS3-style button-only controls, but you can also use the touchscreen, the rear touchpad, and the Vita's accelerometers to deploy some of your special weapons. My favorite touch is that you can adjust the tilt of your Vita to change the angle you view the action from. (Some other users say they activate the black hole—on the rear touch pad—by accident, but I haven't done that a single time in my hours with the game.) All in all, this is a fine example of a game that employs the Vita's gimmicks without overly relying on them, and at any rate you can opt for button-only controls.
With the $10 download you'll receive the game's primary mode, Arcade, as well as a mode that allows you to play a single planet at a time. In Arcade, you'll unlock the planets in order; each one features a succession of five waves of enemies, the last one being a boss. Unfortunately, there are no checkpoints and your lives are quite limited, so even on the "casual" difficulty setting some of these planets might take you a few tries—there's no dashing through the game so you can unlock all the bonuses right away, and sometimes it's annoying to have to start at the first wave after you just barely missed beating the boss. The planets don't take too long to get through, but they take long enough that you feel like you lost some work if you get kicked back to the beginning.