Housemarque bring their twin-stick shooter to the current generation, but despite the new title of Super Stardust Ultra similarities to previous titles are endless. As a result, it makes this more of a remaster with some tweaks than fully fledged new game. With that in mind, how does the game hold up on next-gen tech and more importantly, is it worth a blast?
Game: Super Stardust Ultra
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided)
In short, yes and no. I remember picking up PlayStation 3’s Super Stardust HD and thoroughly enjoying it just like I imagine many of you have, too. The reason I might know that is because it was part of Sony’s peace offering during the great network outage of 2011 – shudder – so a lot of gamers who might not have played it would have given it whirl anyway. That’s why Super Stardust Ultra make the whole prospect a mixed bag regarding the big question of whether to pick it up or not, seeing as it’s not really offering an entirely new experience to a gamer base that has almost certainly had a go at it before.
For the uninitiated Stardust is essentially an enhanced take on the classic arcade game Asteroids with more sphere navigating, visual embellishment and a foot teetering in the same camp as games such as Geometry Wars and Resogun. You’ll glide around the surface of different planets with the goal of blasting anything and everything that appears on them whilst picking up drops of point boosters and crucial weapon upgrades.
The challenge is a moment to moment balancing act between gambling on your position for a pickup, or continuing to attacking the fodder and it’s that risk/reward system that makes it all so addictive. There’s always been a nice balance to the Stardust series, too. Whilst the screen is overflowing with carnage, death rarely feels unwarranted or undeserved because of how well the game puts the right tools for the job at your disposal consistently. Of course, there’s a level of frustration (just like any points based arcade title) but you do feel the learning curve improve over time as you hit a nice rhythm and get into a zone.
The boon of games like Resogun was its euphoric nature to visuals and how great it all looked flooding the screen and whilst not quite in the same league, Ultra does look great and the frame rates and smoothness of the entire experience does make for a pleasant ride – in some ways I hadn’t previously accounted for.
I’ve dabbled with 3D in a couple of titles before that included the option, and of course tried everything using the TV’s native settings when I originally bought a 3D set, but Super Stardust Ultra is by far the only title I’ve played where it genuinely works – it’s preferable, actually. The whole feel of depth really cleans up the screen, giving everything more clarity in the process. Even annoyances become slightly less aggravating like when fire laden blast surges out the screen in your direction on death or a rock breaks into twenty pieces around a pickup you desperately need.
The modes don’t feel particularly that different from one to the next, but all offer a slight twist on the game’s solid twin-stick mechanics. The arcade, survival and endless are exactly what they sound like, whilst Bomber tasks you with using only bombs and Impact only lets you use your boosts to bash enemies and increase your speed – they also are what they say on the tin, I guess. In all honesty none of the other modes apart from the main arcade experience offer any kind of depth or new take on the game, so don’t expect too much variation or even enjoyment from the alternative settings; Stardust’s mechanics are ultimately perpetual, it seems.
Interactive streaming serves as one of the more interesting new additions that takes some advantage of the PlayStation’s streaming services. As people watch you they get to vote on events in game such as an enemy appearing or offering a little help with a care package. Of course it relies on you having a number of people actually watching you, plus there’s the added problem of 90% of the world’s population wanting to see it burn, so probably best to expect more enemies rather than an outreached hand. There’s some 4-player local multiplayer that’s a bit more interactive for groups and can be quite enjoyable if you’re looking to burn some time, but sadly a fully fledged online multiplayer is absent and seems like a missed opportunity to take the series to another level.
Like I said at the very beginning of the review, the answer of the ‘should I buy?’ question is very much a yes and no answer. Super Stardust Ultra is a superbly addictive take on a classic genre, that looks great and plays even better. However, it is basically the same game that’s been released several times already. With no cross-buy functionality from the other games, the few extra modes and visual upgrades really don’t make it worth revisiting if you’ve already played it before. So for new players it really can’t be recommended enough, but players waiting for a true sequel to the older games will unfortunately have to continue their long, long wait.