Shoot 'em ups are a rare breed these days, when a fairly large release does come by they're usually of such a high calibre that you can instantly tell the developer behind it. However in the UK they're of course even more scarce than they are in Japan as it's a very niche market, and with more and more shmups being sub-par iOS and android releases nothing is really doing the genre that much justice except for the occasional few.
FuturLab a Brighton based developer have now released their second PSP Minis title; a little different from their previous arcade catch em' all style game Coconut Dodge; one of the most successful Mini titles to date. They now have a new contender for the highest rated and most successful Minis title, a slightly more story based game, but still with an arcade feel, Velocity.
Velocity is a vertical scrolling shoot 'em up in the style of Ikaruga and Xevious except it's more accessible to non-shooter players, and Velocity isn't a cheaply made shooter with rushed visual assets. Velocity is visually and audibly amazing while also featuring massively compelling gameplay, compelling gameplay can usually be found in some shooters, but generally not all, leaving you stopping the game midway due to boredom of repetition of constant dying. However Velocity has a different effect with the addition of new elements it breathes new life into an overused but small genre and adds a layer of addiction by dropping in puzzles.
In recent games most shooters imitate the bullet hell style gameplay, which is most associated with CAVE these days and is fairly niche, but massively popular. Velocity is quite different to the bullet hell spin off of shoot 'em ups as the ever so slightly more dominant feature is actually puzzle elements as well as boosting and teleporting.
With that said though some levels do a very good job at bullet hell style gameplay, which can at times feel a little jarring in comparison to the slightly more slow paced levels, or speedy rush through the level moments of play. When you do find yourself in a sticky situation containing lots of bullets flying your way you do have three hits before your out, so it's not insanely hard. Plus you can Short Form Teleport (SFT) to an area with fewer bullets or throw a bomb or just shoot and do your best to dodge.
Velocity features three main types of gameplay to keep it varied and feeling fresh every time you play, the types can be narrowed down to speed, gate based puzzles and shooting. Where most levels contain at least a few enemies or a lot when you get to the later levels, they don't all include puzzles or races against time. However it does get really tough when speed is mixed with a little shooting and puzzles as you need time to slow down, but to get a great score and finish the level you can't really slow down! A lot of Velocity relates to speed with the addition of a boost which can be activated by holding down the right shoulder button, so you no longer have to sit back and wait for enemies to appear, you can come to them.
Short Form teleporting is one of the first mechanics explained to you to make sure you learn how to use it well before the game ramps up, it's easily executed with a hold of the Square button and a flick of the analogue stick giving you a targeting reticule of where you wish to jump to followed by a release of the Square button. The motion itself feels great however it can be ever so slightly fiddly to accomplish at times due to the analogue stick sensitivity, but usually at the fiddly times it's because you're trying to get a secret survivor. However at a later stage in the game you're taught Long Form Teleporting (LFT) which allows you to place your own telepod which you can teleport back to, making it very hand for if there's a crossroads or super-secret locations which may take a few attempts to line yourself up.
As well as a standard gun attachment on the Quarp Jet which has three levels of upgrade, you also unlock a bomb weapon which is activated by pressing the Circle button and throwing in a direction, this helps deal with enemies and other obstacles to your left, right and behind you dealing with an age old issue in shmups but without just adding in 360 degree shooting or two way directional shooting. The bombs also do a little more damage than your bullets, making them a great asset when taking out a group of enemies.
Visually you can't really fault Velocity in game and at any other instances where images are involved, the enemies are clear to see as well as their bullets, the Quarp Jet looks great and the space station like metal environments really feel at home in the game and the animated pieces falling off are the icing on the cake. Plus the images that display during the mission briefings look great and really set the mood that FuturLab have worked so hard to create.
For each level of game to be playable within short 1-10 minute bursts one after the other it needs to have catchy music and Velocity definitely has that. The main song you'll hear in Velocity will remain stuck in your head for hours to come, giving you the want to play a little more, however you will hear other pieces music as well which seems to be determined on a level by level basis if a different style of music is required, for a more enemy heavy fight for example.
As well as the main story based missions of the game you also have access to the Flight Computer which features a variety of little bonuses. This is the hub for your game-based Trophies, information on the enemies, art from the start of each mission and special communications you receive. You'll also find extra playable content in here as well which include all the bonus challenges you unlock plus with the added extra of a mini version of Minesweeper and a calculator.
Overall Velocity is an absolute pleasure to play that allows you to whittle away hours of your time by playing the levels as well as cruelly tough mini challenges which you can unlock by finding the secret survivors throughout the levels. Velocity is available today on PSP Minis via the Playstation Network for £3.99 or it's free for Playstation Plus Subscribers. Don't forget that just because it's called a PSP Mini doesn't mean that's all it can be played on, you can pop it on your Playstation 3 or Playstation Vita and get ready for heaps of fun!