Twin-stick shooters are dime-a-dozen these days. Ever since Super Stardust HD kicked off a downloadable revolution on the PS3, we've spent a good chunk of our time testing out the latest analogue-controlled blaster to launch on the PlayStation Store.
Beat Hazard Ultra is the latest in a long-line of Super Stardust HD wannabes to drop onto Sony's digital storefront, but it at least comes with a unique selling point. The Cold Beam Games developed title is something of a shooter / visualiser hybrid, promising to utilise the music stored on your PlayStation 3's hard-drive in order to create custom levels.
The technology's not quite as impressive as it sounds on paper, as while Beat Hazard Ultra definitely spits out custom levels dependent of the music you feed it, everything feels a bit random. There's nothing particularly wrong with Cold Beam's pitch — other than that it's a bit misleading. The game's restricted by the mechanics within, so regardless of whether you feed it "Mr. Taxi" or "Your Disease" the results will always be largely similar. Sure the game's capable of applying some fancy effects to match the music — but you'll never feel like saying, "Man, this level plays so much like I expected 'Step' to."
It also doesn't help that the game's very electronica focused. That's not to say you can't feed it The Beatles if you want to, but listening to Paul McCartney's bouncing basslines while fireworks and space-ships explode on-screen doesn't feel particularly appropriate. If it hasn't got a synth, then what's the point?
Thankfully, while Beat Hazard Ultra's unique selling point is a bit flimsy, it's still a good dual-stick shooter. The visuals are brilliant — imagine the lovechild of Super Stardust HD and Fantavision if it was conceived on New Years Eve while both parties were high on LSD. The game's so mad that you can actually opt to turn off some of the visual effects — if you're a lightweight anyway.
There are several modes, though all are variants of each other. Boss rush litters the screen with bosses; survival is, well, survival, and — you get the idea. The game does a good job of keeping your scores, and tracking your stats across all of the modes.
Perhaps centre of the experience is a Call Of Duty inspired perks system, that allows you to unlock new power-ups and upgrade them as you progress. It's actually delightfully moreish, and it encourages you to keep finding new songs to play and improve your scores. The game even boasts online multiplayer — but unfortunately we couldn't find another player to test the game with before review. We did try.
While the game's level generation mechanic doesn't work as swiftly as we'd hoped, Beat Hazard Ultra is still a tidy twin-stick shooter. The problem is, as we previously alluded, twin-stick shooters are dime-a-dozen. The madcap visuals and neat progression system elevate Beat Hazard Ultra above the other bog-standard shooters available on the PlayStation Store, but it still ain't no Super Stardust HD. If you're looking for a quirky way to listen to your music though, you could definitely do much worse.