Velocity (PS3, PSP, Vita) — Review

Pete kicks it old-school with this great shmup from the PlayStation Minis catalogue.

It’s been a very long time since I played a game in which the screen scrolling could kill you, but that’s the sort of old-school sensibilities you’ll be dealing with if you play FuturLab’s Velocity, a new and rather good PlayStation Mini.

PlayStation Minis are curious beasts. They’re not quite as obscurely-tucked away as the dusty corner in which Microsoft puts the Xbox Live Indie Games, but they’re still a somewhat underappreciated and underexplored part of the PlayStation Store. There’s plenty to like about them, though — they’re cheap, you can purchase them once then play them on PS3, PSP and/or Vita, and they’re a good source of “quick hit” games to enjoy if you just have a few minutes to spare. The Minis section is Sony’s App Store in many ways, only without five hundred regurgitated variations on FarmVille to wade through before you find something good. What’s not to like? [“Lack of trophy support.” — Someone who is Wrong and who Needs to Place Less Importance on Non-Tangible and Arbitrarily-Assigned Metagame Elements]

To Velocity, then. Velocity is a top-down vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up of the kind the more venerable among us will remember playing in the ’80s and ’90s. The closest comparison, if anything, is Activision’s 1982 classic River Raid, but there’s a little more to it than shooting helicopters, boats and bridges while trying not to bump into things or get caught behind something when the screen scrolling catches up with you.

Pew-pew-pew! Crash! BOOM! Pling!

Like the ageing shmup, Velocity allows you to control the speed at which the screen scrolls to a limited degree, allowing you to slow down for fiddly, tricky bits and speed up on easy bits — though not stop. This is where the similarities end, though, for your ship in Velocity also has the ability to teleport over short distances, including through walls. Most of the game’s levels are designed with this mechanic in mind, meaning you’ll often come to what appears to be a “dead end” only to see a convenient hole in the structure coming up ahead. As the game’s stages increase in difficulty (at a good pace, it must be said) the player finds themselves juggling between normal navigation, teleportation, shooting at enemies and launching bombs in directions their guns can’t reach — all against the clock.

Simply getting through the early levels in Velocity is generally pretty straightforward — once you get the hang of the teleport mechanic, at least. The challenge factor comes from completing the levels well. Not only do you need to survive, but you also need to grab little blue “survivor pods” as you fly past, destroy enemies and complete the level as quickly as possible, balancing the desire to survive and grab shiny things with the wish to put your foot (well, index finger) to the floor and race through. Later levels grow in complexity by incorporating switch puzzles in which players must destroy objects in the correct order from the correct direction as well as multiple routes, some of which are more rewarding than others. In some cases, you’ll have to use “telepods” to return to areas you visited earlier, or make use of an in-game map to plan out your assault in advance. And on top of all this, little hidden capsules scattered throughout the levels unlock access to some truly old-school difficult secret missions, too, meaning you’ll certainly be kept busy trying to master everything this game has to offer. The longer you play it, the more surprising and wonderful twists on the basic formula you’ll encounter.

You better master teleporting through walls if you want to survive in the world of Velocity.

The whole experience is capped off by some pixel art that wouldn’t look out of place in an early ’90s Atari ST game (that’s a compliment, by the way) and a banging, catchy electronica soundtrack infused with a pleasing retro flavour. All in all, Velocity accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, which is to provide a thoroughly modern shmup that is unafraid and unashamed to keep one foot well and truly planted in the past. It’s a game that is, as the cliché goes, easy to learn and hard to master, and you’ll have an absolute blast (no pun intended) along the way.

Find out more about Velocity on the official website.