If you haven’t played Super Stardust HD (SS HD) for the PS3, you’re missing out on one of the very best downloadable titles available for the system. Due to that game’s success, developer Housemarque and publisher Sony Computer Entertainment have decided to bring the title to the PSP. Though it’s similar and even better than the PSP release of Everyday Shooter, the game is decidedly weaker than its console outing due to the PSP’s hardware limitations. Still, it’s a great game to have on your MemoryStick.
Super Stardust Portable (SS Portable) is a top-down shooter that has players blasting through waves of various asteroids, explosive devices, and alien ships on their way to racking up serious high scores. Your little ship shuttles around a revolving set of space above one of five planets. It’s your job to decimate the alien and asteroid threat with three distinct cannons, screen-clearing bombs, a hyper-drive bull-rush, and evasive skills.
Your cannons become more powerful as you collect weapon drops and include a Rock Crusher (effective against rocky asteroids and most enemies), a Gold Melter ray (good for gold asteroids and specific enemies), and an Ice Splitter (which makes quick work of icy chunks of space debris). Also, the point capsules released by asteroids and enemies become increasingly more valuable the longer you live. The key to getting high scores is to stay alive long enough to build up your point multiplier. The gameplay is very straightforward, but it is also utterly addictive and satisfyingly challenging.
SS Portable features five increasingly challenging planets for you to master. There are also three different levels of difficulty, though only the lower two are initially available. As you advance through four phases for each planet, you will be confronted with a final alien boss (bosses) in the fifth phase. The game will automatically save your progress, unlocking the new worlds as you go and saving your hard-earned high scores. Outside of the main Arcade mode, players can also try to set high scores on individual planets in Planet mode or drop cannons and extra lives in Impact mode. That’s right: Impact mode does away with the conventional shooter aspect of the title and tests your evasion, bombing, and ramming skills.
Outside of conquering all five planets on the three difficulty settings, the real goal of the game is to get outrageously high scores. The best way to do this is to stay alive; your points will grow exponentially the longer you live. Getting through Normal mode will automatically loop you into Hard and keep your point tally rolling. Because high scores are so central to the game, the devs have included leaderboard support through a Super Stardust server. This feature goes a long way toward extending replayability and it makes the game that much more satisfying. The leaderboard is divided up into best planet scores, by difficulty, and by mode (Arcade or Impact). Unfortunately, connecting to the server is a real chore. Frequently, connection errors occur and you won’t be able to upload your scores. Moreover, there is a glitch present that will actually freeze your PSP and power it down. This is a pervasive problem that occurred seven out of fifteen attempts. A patch needs to be released to address this issue.
Controls in Super Stardust Portable are admirably captured though certainly less precise when compared to the PS3 version. However, unlike Everyday Shooter’s handheld iteration, the controls are still very smooth. Though you can still only shoot in eight directions, the ability to tap the buttons for spread and the ever-increasing power of the weaponry makes up for it. The only real hiccup I found with the control layout is the weapon switch button. Switching weapons is mapped to the D-pad, which is very unwieldy on more difficult levels. Thankfully, the devs recognized this and made a secondary mapping of the weapon switch to the Select button. Nevertheless, I often found myself accidentally tapping the adjacent Start button, and having to cycle through the weapons rather than pressing up or down to pick the exact weapon you want with one press is still inefficient.
Visually, Super Stardust Portable is a pretty PSP game. The asteroids break apart in interesting ways, the enemy ships and robotic mines are well animated, and the weapon and explosion effects are slick. What’s more, there is always a ton of action onscreen, and there are never any lag or framerate issues. The only downside to the graphics could be the rather featureless and static backgrounds. Nevertheless, they too do a fairly nice job of communicating the setting of the game.
So too does the original musical score set the tone. I loved the distinct themes for each planet, and the computer-like, feminine voice that announced weapon pickups also enhanced the experience. From a gameplay perspective, subtle sound effects efficiently communicated key status effects. Little blips let players know when the ramming ability has recharged, and subtle chirps let you know that your multiplier has been augmented, or that certain enemies or phase nukes have been deployed. All in all, the sounds did a great job of making up for some of the PSP version’s limitations.
If you are expecting Super Stardust Portable to replace Super Stardust HD, you’re going to be disappointed. However, SS Portable does a great job of translating the experience to the PSP. For the most part, all the key gameplay elements are present and accounted for. As such, expect several hours of addictive gameplay to blast through. For $9.99, players simply can’t go wrong with Super Stardust Portable. In fact, players will be hard-pressed to find a much better game at full price for the PSP.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The visuals of SS HD largely come through on this portable version. However, backgrounds are somewhat lackluster. 3.5 Control
Controls are not nearly as tight as they are with a Dualshock 3 or SIXAXIS. Still, the experience is never truly hampered by control shortcomings. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The original themes are interesting, and the status-indicating sound effects are particularly effective. 4.2 Play Value
Though not nearly as fluid and engaging as its console cousin, Super Stardust Portable is a great game with a lot of fun relative to the sticker price. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.