review of Super Stardust Delta, asteroid collision

Monday, February 27th 2012. | Games News

article-1330393990009-11F38A30000005DC-451955_636x300Maybe we’re the only ones that didn’t realise this until recently, but that electronic burping in the background of the original Asteroids was meant to be the main theme from Jaws. Or at least that’s what we heard. The 1979 coin-op seems such a long time ago now that it and the manner of its creation have slipped almost into legend.

It’s so old that even its clones are starting to get long in the tooth. The first Stardust game was released for the Amiga back in 1993 and featured all sorts of state-of-the-art graphics techniques, like ray-tracing and a 3D tunnel effect. And surprisingly the games are still being made by the same company today: Finnish developer Housemarque

We’ve no idea how they’ve survived this long, since they seem to have barely developed any other games in all this time, but in the intervening decades Stardust has evolved very little – which is probably why it’s still so much fun.

The major difference between the original game and this is that the modern PlayStation titles use a dual stick control system similar to Geometry Wars, where you move with the left stick and direct your fire with the right. Obviously that’s not something a portable console has been able to do properly up until now, which makes Delta a particularly useful game to have ready as a launch day download.

It is still Asteroids though, so your main goal is to rid a series of levels of rocks and enemy nasties. There are sensibly few gameplay complications, the main being three different weapons to upgrade – each of which is best against a different kind of asteroid or colour-coded enemy.

By splitting the gameplay up into levels this does lose some of the purity of something like Geometry Wars, but gains a sense of focus and purpose that will be appreciated by many. The difficulty curve is pretty shallow though, so it can take a while before it gets properly hard.

If you’ve played any of the previous games you won’t be quite as surprised by the graphics as we were a few years ago but they still look great on the PS Vita’s screen, with a kaleidoscope of neon-coloured explosions bursting out at the least provocation.

Although the gameplay takes place on a 2D plane you actually move around a 3D planet, something like Animal Crossing, which is a neat way of keeping the same small level structure as the original Asteroids without being stuck to a single static screen.

All of this is just as applicable to the existing PlayStation 3 and PSP versions of the game, for in truth Delta adds little of any real note to the experience. There are two control modes now though – Pure and Delta – with the latter adding a brief slow motion effect when you use a turbo boost.

Delta mode also forces you to activate your EMP smart bomb (your only extra weapon in Pure mode) by shaking the Vita, as well as adding homing missiles (press the touchscreen) and a friendly black hole (tap the rear touchpad). The game gives the distinct impression that these extras have been added purely to show off the Vita’s abilities, rather than because they’re any real necessity for the gameplay, especially as it’s so easy to set them off by accident.

Despite the control options there’s really only one proper game mode, where you try and work your way through the five planets and their bosses. Other than that you can just choose to play a single planet of your choosing or one of five unlockable mini-games.

These are just more touchscreen gimmicks, as you’re invited to squeeze asteroids between the front screen and rear touchpad or tilt the Vita to roll around an asteroid like a ball.

Given the price Super Stardust Delta still represents good value for money and is a fun blast, but it’s not a very ambitious one. To be fair though we wouldn’t know what else to do with the concept either, beyond what’s already been tried. After all, if a game has lasted this long it’s probably a good sign that it’s not broken and doesn’t need fixing.

In Short: Very familiar dual stick shooter, in more ways than one, but still a great little Asteroids clone, with graphics that are nicely flattered by the PS Vita’s screen.

Pros: Classic gameplay works great with the Vita’s controls and the graphics look particularly fine. Different weapons add just the right amount of depth.

Cons: Very little evolution from the previous versions. Level structure and shallow difficult curve rob the game of some of its pacing. Forgettable music.

Related For review of Super Stardust Delta, asteroid collision