One year ago, FuturLab's Velocity was released on the PlayStation Minis label and flew right into a meteor shower of praise. At a glance a vertical shoot 'em up, it excelled above this label, wonderfully welding smart puzzle elements to speedy, frantic laser-play. If you were foolish enough to ignore it when it was originally released, however, you've got a chance at redemption: it's been revamped for the PlayStation Vita as Velocity Ultra, and it's every bit as fantastic as it ever was.
Velocity Ultra surpasses many of its peers and transforms from a fine shooter into an addictive essential thanks to its original mechanics. Starting off much like an arcade shoot 'em up, it teaches you the basics – blast the enemies to gain better weaponry, rescue survivors from escape pods, shatter glass to forge paths forward, don't get pushed out of the bottom of the screen – before throwing forth its own twists on the genre.
Teleportation is your ship's main selling point: by pressing down Square, moving a cursor about with the left analogue stick and then releasing the button when you've targeted the desired area, you can zap wherever there's space. A wall's blocking your way? Hop over it. Survivors tucked off in a locked off area? Warp in, collect, and continue on.
On top of that, holding the R button enables your ship's limitless booster, propelling you forward at high speed – a necessity if you want to beat levels in good time to earn medals. While each of these abilities takes some practice and concentration initially, it soon becomes second nature to keep the thrusters on and snap about the screen.
While these skills can be used to best your foes – you can jump into a circle of baddies and blow them away before nimbly escaping without a scratch – they're also employed to solve puzzles and creep into new areas to uncover secrets. Many of the stages feature colourful, destructive fields that can only be deactivated by hitting switches in order; it begins simply enough, with one or two buttons per area, but becomes increasingly complex later on, with some linking together up to nine switches. Consider that stages often include more than one type of coloured area and things get a little messy.
That's where telepods come in, which act as cosmic bookmarks for your ship. Drop one with Triangle and you can return to it at any point – so if you come to a fork in the road, plant one down so that you can warp back quickly and explore both paths. With switches spread across entire levels, not necessarily positioned in number order, telepods play a crucial role in Velocity Ultra's puzzles.
Finally, there's a staple of shoot 'em ups: the all-powerful missile. You have unlimited explosives at your disposal, which can be flung in four directions. One of our primary complaints of the Minis release of Velocity was that this mechanic was much less smooth than the others: missiles didn't always go where you wanted them to, or you steered into danger in the course of firing one, as you had to adjust bomb direction with the left analogue stick, which was also used to move your craft. Thankfully, Vita solves this problem: the right analogue stick is now used for explosives, and the difference is huge.
All of this has the potential to confuse, but to FuturLab's credit it does nothing of the sort – the pace facilitates the introduction of new skills well, and helpful visual indicators prevent things from getting overwhelming without yielding to over the top hand-holding. The edges of the screen, for instance, flash blue to advise a telepod drop, but you're never forced to follow that instruction. The next switch you have to hit is clearly highlighted, which is extremely helpful when the screen gets busy with enemies and bullets are flying everywhere.
And despite the aid, Velocity Ultra isn't an easy game to conquer. Enemies are constantly trying to sap away your health, and combined with the other obstacles there are several stages that can successfully swipe away all three of your lives. Restarts are swift and free of load times, however, and checkpoints placed throughout each stage are welcome. Thanks to these things it's simple to 'beat' stages, but it's only by learning how to best utilise each skill that you can play them as intended: saving as many survivors as possible at maximum speed.
There are 50 story stages to complete, and they can be played in roughly any order you like – as long as you have the required experience points to unlock them. You can win up to three medals – bronze, silver, gold – per stage; each awards you a different amount of experience, which adds up into a global meter to open up new levels. Finishing a level nets you a bronze, but to get the higher tiers – and thus more experience – you have to refine your speed and teleportation abilities. The Vita release of Velocity also encourages players to improve due to online leaderboards, so now there's the incentive of challenging your friends' scores too.
In addition there are challenge missions tucked away, unlocked by snatching up tokens hidden within the campaign. While the main mode is relatively friendly, the missions are of an entirely different ilk: they're relentless tests of skill that push you to use everything you've learnt with millimetre-perfect precision. Only experts need apply.
Velocity Ultra's Vita revitalisation looks gorgeous: the pixel art has been tightened up to make the most of the OLED screen, and even when the screen's full of action and projectiles it remains clear. The music is superb too, a lovely mix of dark electronica and tunes that could have been plucked straight from the glory days of the Amiga.
Velocity Ultra has found a perfect home on Vita: it plays even better due to the extra inputs, and it's exactly the sort of game that you can whip out for a couple of minutes on a bus or an hour at home. It's a strong display of FuturLab's mastery of the PlayStation download domain – this absolutely belongs on your system.