During its short spell at the forefront of PlayStation production, FuturLab has profited from its ability to surprise. Straightforward concepts are at the core of the company’s ethos, but the award-winning developer always manages to marry them with clever twists. That commitment to reinvention resulted in the firm refreshing the entire shmup genre with Velocity last year, the team’s second PlayStation Mini at the time. Rather than focus on bullet patterns and big bosses, the studio invested its attention into puzzles and precision teleportation mechanics – and it culminated in one of the most inventive releases of 2012. But with the PlayStation Vita port of the aforementioned hit now flying high on digital stores shelves, does the award-winning outfit have the creative chops to re-imagine its own work?
Velocity 2X, the organisation’s upcoming PlayStation 4 and Vita sequel, feels fairly familiar at first. As in the previous instalment, you still pilot the alarmingly responsive Quarp Jet in vertical stages, boosting through colourful corridors while you snatch up blue breadcrumbs. The teleport mechanic returns, allowing you to fling the audacious aircraft through cunning compartments, shooting out switches and dropping cosmic bookmarks along the way. Granted, the game looks a lot better now – the lighting, for example, has been given a lift, accentuating the impact of every explosion – but you could be forgiven for thinking that this is merely more of the same. As already alluded, though, the Brighton-based developer simply doesn’t do, er, simple.
With the follow-up to its most popular property, the indie powerhouse has opted to introduce an entire new genre. While the core shmup elements remain, protagonist Lt. Kai Tana can now step outside of her ship and embark on miniature platforming escapades, which are integrated into the more traditional segments. For example, you may need to shoot out a slew of switches in order to progress in your craft, but the only way to do this is to dock your jet and blast the remaining toggles on foot. It sounds like an enormous change in direction, but the game’s greatest achievement is how well it manages to merge the two disparate mechanics.
Impressively, when out of her vehicle, the blonde-haired badass has access to all of the same traversal and combative options as her craft. She can still teleport short distances to pass through blockages and structures, and can slide beneath low ceilings and down slants. Telepods, meanwhile, can be tossed using an Angry Birds-esque pull on the touch-screen – and, presumably, touchpad on the DualShock 4 – allowing you to bounce intergalactic placeholders around the screen, while you can fire in all directions in order to smash glass containers and crystals. It’s just as twitchy and satisfying in the side-scrolling sections as it is in the vertical sequences.
And it’s this seamless transition between genres that makes it all feel perfectly natural. The controls don’t really change between components, so you don’t need to relearn how to play on the fly – and that helps the game to maintain its rhythmic momentum. Instead of warping between rectangular lanes in the Quarp Jet, you’ll instead boost through walls as you leap over ground hazards and shoot out crystals overhead. It’s the same underlying concept, but it feels cunningly fresh.
This is yet more inventive, intelligent action from a developer at the very top of its game
That’s not to say that there aren’t some legitimately new ideas thrown in for good measure. The developer’s saying that it will have boss fights in the full game, but it’s keeping those under wraps for the time being. One element that it has been willing to show is the Vokh, a looming alien creature with a raging bloodlust. These enemies appear in the platforming sections, and will charge at you the moment that you’re within their vicinity. One hit from their foreign hand will force you to restart, with their only weakness on their back. In order to kill them, you must run straight at them, teleport through their body, and shoot them from the other side. It’s incredibly satisfying when you pull it off, though it perhaps renders the game’s emphasis on lives a little redundant; it can be very easy to fail during these battles, and with the checkpoints allowing you to retry almost instantly, it’s possible to exhaust all of your attempts in seconds.
Still, it’s yet more evidence of the studio’s reluctance to settle for straightforward. The dual-joystick shooting mechanics are so strong that traditional weapon fodder could have been a viable option here, but the implementation of the teleportation mechanic makes these enemy encounters that little bit more exciting. And after playing just three levels of the upcoming campaign, that sentiment summarises our overall first impressions of the experience. This is yet more inventive, intelligent action from a developer at the very top of its game. We can’t wait to see what surprises the rest of the release holds.
Do you wish that you could teleport into FuturLab’s offices and play Velocity 2X now? Are you a fan of the original title? Step out of your ship and share your thoughts in the comments section below.