Housemarque’s Super Stardust Delta is one of the cheapest PlayStation Vita launch titles at $9.99, and it’s also one of the games you absolutely need to pick up as soon as you get Sony’s new handheld into your hot little hands. Fans of Super Stardust HD will find plenty that’s familiar here. The formula’s been tweaked a bit, but Delta is the same sort of visually stimulating twin-stick shooter that its PS3 predecessor was. Only now it’s on the Vita, with leaner and meaner gameplay alongside some clever uses of the new portable’s unique control features.
The core Arcade mode is actually split into two separate entities: “Delta” uses all of the new motion- and touch-based bells and whistles added for the Vita release, whereas “Pure” uses only buttons and analog stick controls. From there you have the option of playing through the game’s planets — each level is set above one planet, unfolding over five phases — on casual, normal or hardcore difficulties.
For those who aren’t familiar, the actual game involves using the left analog stick to pilot your ship around a planet while using the right stick to fire either of your weapons in any direction, with unlimited ammo, independent of how you’re moving. In Delta you have just two weapons to switch between: Fire and Ice. Fire is more effective against red-colored targets and Ice is more effective against blue-colored ones.
Green is what you’ll want to watch for, however. Destroyed objects leave behind green dust that can be collected for points. There are also green-colored asteroids that drop point boosters and power-ups when destroyed. Your ship is also equipped with a speed boost (mapped to LT) that makes it temporarily invulnerable, a great tool for getting out of a jam.
You’ll also have access to super-weapons. Which you’ll be using depend on whether you’re playing in Delta or Pure. Pure’s special is a button-mapped EMP attack that effectively clears your surrounding area. Delta gets two specials, triggered by tapping either the front touchscreen, for a missile barrage, or the rear touchpad, for a black hole. You can also adjust the camera in Delta by tilting the Vita forward and back or left and right. Using these tools, you’ll work through each of the five planets’ five phases, each one ending with a boss battle.
Each time you polish off a planet, you unlock a high-score-based minigame that uses the Vita’s touch or motion controls in one way or another. In one, you’re tilting the device to move targeting crosshairs around the screen, hitting the two triggers to fire at enemy forces converging on a friendly you’re tasked with protecting. In another, you slide around as you maneuver a disc into blue-colored objects while avoiding red ones. These are all simple time-wasters, but they make good use of the Vita’s unique elements.
Mere descriptions don’t really capture the joy of playing Super Stardust Delta. Fans of bullet hell shoot-em-ups and frenetic, fast-paced arcade-shooting galleries should be all over this. Delta is relentless, especially in its later levels. You’ll need to be quick with your fingers to survive a first attempt at taking on any of the five planets, even on the casual difficulty setting. The level layouts and enemy formations never change, so learning the game is very much a matter of repetition.
Fortunately, there’s very little frustration in having to accept a do-over thanks to the delicious eye candy Housemarque has on display. Each level is a veritable fireworks show of exploding enemies, swirling pickups and glowing green space dust, with all of it set to techno beats that fit the scenes perfectly. It’s not an understatement to call Delta the best-looking game yet for the Vita. It is, without question.
You get all of that for $9.99. If there’s any problem worth pointing out, it’s the learning curve. There’s no tutorial and the game is not friendly to newcomers unless you’re listening carefully for instructions from the in-game computer voice. It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going on, though you may need to restart once or twice.
This is an admittedly minor complaint, however. The game may not be kicking down any doors with its new ideas, but it’s a perfect fit for the Vita with its on-the-go-friendly gameplay, beautiful visuals and clever use of the portable’s more unique features. Overall, Housemarque presents us with one of the most compelling reasons to own a PlayStation Vita at launch with Super Stardust Delta.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Sony Computer Entertainment)