Super Stardust Ultra Review
Sony PlayStation 4
Back in June of 2007, developers Housemarque released the PlayStation 3's answer to Geometry Wars, Super Stardust HD. These two landmark titles paved the way for some of the twin-stick shooters we see on today's current generation consoles such as Resogun and Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions, both of which released to critical acclaim. Not wanting to be left behind, Sony have employed external studios D3T and XDEV to develop a new iteration in the series, which comes in the form of Super Stardust Ultra. While this is neither a direct port of Super Stardust HD or a brand new game, both fans of the franchise and newcomers will find something fun and interesting to play.
Super Stardust Ultra is an updated version of Super Stardust HD that introduces five new planets, seven extra game modes, online play which allows people to interact with your game through Twitch streaming, and the ability to play the game in 3D at 1080p, at sixty frames per second. The mode that encompasses the most of these new features is the arcade mode, which familiarises the player with the game's new planets as well as giving rookies the chance to improve their skills through the different difficulty levels.
You'll feel right at home in Super Stardust Ultra if you've ever played a twin-stick shooter before because the game adopts the traditional control scheme of the left stick controlling your ship and the right both aiming and shooting your weaponry. Each planetary level takes place on a spherical landscape, with the basic gameplay loop revolving around the player destroying both rocks and enemies to gain points. Each level has four phases of enemies along with a boss at the end to defeat. Your ship comes equipped with three different weapons which all come in handy when dealing with the different types of rock on the playing surface. For example, your ice blaster works best on the blue icy rock you can see in the screenshot above, while your flamethrower-esque weapon comes in handy when dealing with the golden rocks pictured below. The player also has access to a limited number of bombs which will destroy everything close to your ship upon activation, as well as a dash ability which can be used to get your ship out of a tight situation. The gameplay loop and assortment of ammunition all comes together to form a fun and engaging experience that is best witnessed through the arcade mode. There is no story to envelope the five planets which is why so much precedence is placed on the gameplay, and fortunately that delivers a ton of enjoyment.
Outside of the arcade mode, Super Stardust Ultra has a further six variations for the player to explore. Endless, Survival and Time Attack are self-explanatory, but the other three variants base themselves around a certain aspect of the gameplay. Bomber mode takes away all your weapons and dash ability which leaves the player solely relying on their bombs. Impact once again strips you of your weapons but here emphasis is placed on the dash ability, which players must use to destroy every enemy and rock in their path. The final mode, Blockade, is easily the most unique of the bunch. Your ship spawns with a chain of rock coming out of the back and it is your job to destroy using bombs and the dash ability. The objective is to survive for as long as possible; it's like Snake in space and it's a whole lot of fun. In fact, all three of these modes are very entertaining and help to prolong the life of the game past the initial two to three hours it takes to complete the arcade mode. While all of these modes may seem enticing to a new player, a large portion of them were already included in Super Stardust HD. Because of this, there isn’t very much to draw in seasoned players of the series and so this new iteration is rather worthless for those looking for a new experience.
When the PlayStation 4 was released, a huge amount of significance was placed on the console's ability to live stream every game to Twitch with the touch of a button. This has become a norm in the industry, but now developers are exploring ways for the audience to have an impact on the game they are watching through interactive streaming. Super Stardust Ultra takes full advantage of this in a separate mode which allows the viewer to vote on what happens next, whether that is in the form of help or a hindrance. At its most basic, the interactive streaming mode plays out like a game of Endless, but then viewers can get involved and change the course of action entirely. This can be a lot of fun for everyone taking part if you have a large following on Twitch, but if you're only attracting one or two viewers then this mode can feel like a waste.
The biggest upgrade in the visuals department is of course the bump up to 1080p, which makes the game look incredible compared to its PS3 counterpart. And combining this with sixty frames per second, you have a smooth game that runs, plays and looks like a dream. There is also the option of playing the game in 3D, but we weren't able to test that out at the time of review. Furthermore, Super Stardust Ultra has been described as "Morpheus Ready", and we can't wait to see what it looks like in virtual reality. A presentation upgrade is all well and good, but it does little to attract players who have already played the previous entry on the PlayStation 3. It is definitely a welcomed improvement that makes the game look even better, but would this persuade veterans into another purchase? We doubt it.
If you've never played a Super Stardust game before, then Super Stardust Ultra is an easy sell. You're getting a host of fantastic game modes to explore along with fantastic graphics and a smooth framerate. This is the complete package and there hasn't been a better time to suit up and take a ship for a spin. However if you've already played Super Stardust HD then the extra game modes and visual enhancements may not be worth the asking price. The game will remain to be an arcade classic, but existing fans will find a lot of disappointment here if they're looking for a new experience. In the end, this a good update to an already fantastic game that deserves its place on the PlayStation 4. But next time, let's have a brand new game Sony.