Velocity Review—Olivier Gruner, Eat Your Heart Out
Velocity is the long-awaited second game from FuturLab, makers of the well received (and blatantly imitated) Coconut Dodge. Instead of resting on their laurels and making a sequel, the game they’ve made, Velocity, is a vertically scrolling space shooter. It really is not like any space shooter I’ve played, standing out in a very crowded genre. More than anything, it actually reminds me of the old classic arcade game Defender, not so much in how it plays, but due to the sheer complexity of its gameplay.
It starts off simply enough: taking inspiration from their previous title, you must simply control your ship (the Quarp Jet) and collect rescue pods as the level scrolls down vertically. You can hold down the right shoulder button to increase the scrolling speed, but the only complication is that some of the rescue pods are trapped and you must blast them free using your ship’s cannon. Hardcore shooter fans will be pleased to discover that your ship has no inertia, but personally I find that somewhat twitchy.
But then the game’s major feature is introduced—teleportation, moving from one place to another without moving through the space in between the two locations. It is needed to progress through the level and to reach spots that are otherwise inaccessible. In theory, it’s quite simple; simply hold down the Square button, which then produces a cursor on the screen. Then move the cursor with the D-pad or analog nub and let go. And bamf, your ship has teleported to where the cursor was.
Now if they had left it at that, it would be complex enough, but they made the gameplay even more intricate. Your ship can “fling” bombs. Essentially, it’s the only way your ship can shoot or attack laterally. It’s done very similarly to teleporting, sans the cursor, as you simply hold down the O button and move the D-pad or analog nub in the direction you want to lob the bomb, then release the button.
This is one of those things that works on paper, but it is pretty much the main cause of death for me in the game—I try to fling the bomb to the side, but apparently I don’t release it quickly enough, and so I crash into what I wanted to shoot and my ship blows up. It’s been a while since I wanted to fling my PSP across the room.
Lastly, there is a second type of teleportation, long range or “long form,” as the game calls it. Basically, it lets you go back to an earlier part of a level. You drop an anchor using the Triangle button. Then you press the left shoulder button, which brings up a little map of the level including all the anchors you dropped (plus the start of the level). You simply pick where you go and bamf, there you are.
While it could be used to go back and pick up the little people you missed, it’s more a way of adding a bit of a puzzle aspect to the game. Sometimes there are branches in a level, with switches on both sides, so you need to go down both ways to hit them. It’s clever, but it also adds more thinking than I like in a shooter. Still, you generally don’t absolutely need to use it, since you can sometimes rescue enough people to pass a level by simply taking one of the branches.
The game has 50 levels, most of which have a name tied somehow to science fiction (or sometimes just science). Some are pretty obvious; others are more obscure. You progress through them by earning XP (AKA experience points) by finishing levels, with each level requiring a certain accumulated XP total to be unlocked. It works pretty well, as it means you don’t necessarily have to beat a level in order to progress though the game. Still, scoring for a level seems a little weird—you do better with a good time and fewer people rescued than everyone rescued but slower.
And, if that isn’t enough for you, there are 20 challenges to beat. I found the game to be pretty hard, but these are much worse. There is also an incredible amount of in-game achievements to collect. And if that’s not enough, the game even features a no-frills version of Minesweeper (the extras, including Minesweeper, are in a “Flight Computer” section, so they really did make it look like a desktop of a computer, albeit one of a very tidy and boring person). Most Minis are, well, mini, but Velocity has enough content for a $15 PSN game.
Graphically, the game features extremely well done 2D graphics. More than anything, it reminds me of a TurboGrafx-16 game in looks. It’s colorful, but slightly drab, not as vibrant as a SNES, which had a warm palette, but not as dull as games on the Sega Genesis. The amount of detail in the graphics is also high, but for your enemies, this can be lost, since you have to look very closely to see the detail (they tend to be mostly dark brown). Not every level has a piece of opening artwork, but most of them seem to have one. It does a nice job of setting the mood.
When people talk about music in video games, I generally roll my eyes. To me, most of it is like the stuff they play over the phone while you’re waiting to talk to someone real at customer service. I almost always turn it off as quickly as I can find the volume settings. But here, the music is actually not only listenable but very good.
With an overwhelming wealth of unique gameplay and oodles of polish, Velocity is a great game. But, it’s probably more suited to hardcore gamers than casual ones. I like space shooters, but my coordination has never been the best, and my reflexes have certainly gone downhill since my 20s (or even 30s).
So, while I enjoyed Velocity, I also found it rather frustrating, much like I found Defender to be frustrating when I was younger. I would have liked to have seen difficulty settings, as well as the ability to change the number of lives. Virtually all of the old arcade games allowed these options. Even though at the time they were only available to the owner of the machine, in emulation they often let the player decide, so it’s a bit jarring going from all those old arcade games to a modern arcade-style game without them.
But if you like a challenge, it’s hard to top Velocity. And even with skipping a lot of levels, like I did, there’s still a lot of fun and value to be had.