Although the Stardust series began life as a simple Asteroids clone on the classic Amiga computers, it wasn't until the release of Super Stardust HD on PlayStation 3's download service that it began to garner worldwide recognition. Lauded for its intuitive play controls and vibrant visuals, the twin analogue stick shooter quickly became a big hit with gamers and one of the most downloaded titles on the service.
After a very shaky attempt at bringing the experience to the PSP, Finnish developer Housemarque decided to take another stab at the handheld market, this time on PlayStation Vita. Taking full advantage of the system's twin analogue sticks and high contrast OLED screen, Super Stardust Delta has found a home that might even be a more perfect fit than PlayStation 3.
Don't expect a lot of storyline; after a very brief introduction to the plot, you pretty much blast away everything in sight. Your main goal is to pilot your ship around each planet's five areas, eradicating all of the enemies and facing off with the boss at the end in order to progress to the next planet. You face a never-ending barrage of enemies and asteroids along the way, but your ship's impressive array of weapons provides you with more than enough firepower to get the job done.
Your basic moveset revolves around the twin analogue sticks and proves to be quite intuitive and responsive. The left stick moves your ship around the playing field while the right stick fires your primary weapon in the desired direction. Enemies and asteroids come in both fire and ice varieties, but thankfully so does your cannon fire. You can switch between the two elements with a quick press of the right shoulder button, something you'll find yourself doing on a continuous basis. The left shoulder button provides a quick boost that helps you speed out of the way of sticky situations as well. There's also an EMT smart bomb that can be detonated with a quick shake of your Vita system if you find yourself in a real pinch.
If you choose to play the new Delta mode, you'll find a few new gameplay twists tossed into the mix. These new additions make use of the Vita's front touch screen and rear touch pad. With a quick tap on the touch screen you can unleash a barrage of homing missiles that swarm all over the field of play, destroying anything that gets in their path. Of course, if you're looking to take care of business yourself, you can always touch the rear touch pad to create a black hole that basically sucks in anything that's within its range as you sit back and blast everything that gets swirled into it. While these new functions won't appeal to everyone, they do a nice job of adding even more fun and variety to the experience.
There are actually a large number of modes to choose from. Arcade mode allows you to play through each of the planets in order and proves to be the meat of the package. Planet mode has you tackle individual planets that you've unlocked in Arcade mode and can be a good way to practice any areas that might be giving you trouble. A host of mini-games also unlock as you beat the various planets. These tend to be quite different from the main game and feature challenges, like pinching asteroids using the touch screen and rear touch pad or playing levels using only bombs, but are equally fun if you're up to the task. And if you like a little competition, you can always try to outscore fellow players and friends on the online leader boards. There's even an additional DLC Blast Pack that adds a few new game modes to the mix for a small fee.
While you might find Vita titles that feature more detail in their visual presentation, you won't find a flashier or more vibrant display than that of Super Stardust Delta. The high contrast OLED screen provides the perfect black backdrop for the insanely bright flashes of colour that greet each and every explosion set off. There's also a large degree of graphical variety between the individual planets to keep things fresh.
Housemarque didn't scrimp when it came time to build a musical score around its intense shooter — not only are you treated to a bevy of new tracks, but you also get some classic Super Stardust HD tracks to enjoy as well. The sound effects are a mixed bag: some sound a bit generic, whereas some of the deeper bass effects come off amazingly well, especially for those who choose to use headphones. To round out the audio package there are a host of voiced dialogue tidbits that feature a rather sexy female voice that spices things up quite nicely.
It's not often that we see a console title end up being a better fit on a portable system, but after putting Super Stardust Delta through its paces it's abundantly clear that the experience fits the system like a glove. With its huge number of game modes and quick bursts of intense shooting action, it's the perfect type of game for those times when you only have a few minutes to play. It's an absolute blast to play; those short bursts of gaming could very easily turn into far lengthier affairs if you're not careful.