Review: Super Stardust Ultra (PlayStation 4)

Super Stardust HD drew the latest generation dual joystick short straw. Released at a time when the PlayStation 3 was truly unpopular, Geometry Wars and its Xbox Live Arcade successor tended to enjoy all the plaudits of downloadable shoot-em-ups, even though, in this author’s opinion, they never reached the same levels as the Housemarque spherical affair. Fortunately for the Finnish developer, Resogun has earned the respect it so richly deserves, but what about the Amiga reboot that kick-started his longstanding relationship with Sony?

Not a good port or sequel, Super Stardust Ultra is a bit of an odd game. Helmed by Runcorn-based dev-for-hire d3t – who previously worked on the cute Lemmings Touch – this is essentially an updated version of the original PS3 affair. Here you’ll find all the current and correct expansion packs from the inaugural release, including the Survival-crushing controller and the oddly satisfying Impact, plus a couple of bonus modes and some visual updates. The arcade option also features five new planets, but these aren’t as significant as they initially seem.

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The return to the original version from 2007 confirms our suspicions, as the enemy patterns and asteroid formations remain more or less identical. The renamed rocks you’ll be orbiting offer mostly artistic touch-ups, and later, with much more elaborate structures in the thick of the action. At first glance, the game will look exactly how you remember it – but plug in your next-gen format and you’ll find flatter textures and geometries. Overall, it’s a step up for the franchise, even if you need a side-by-side to see it.

The same goes for the added effects and minor interface improvements, which once again serve to improve the experience, but only slightly. Fortunately, the central loop of the game is as enjoyable as ever. For those unfamiliar, you’ll control a spaceship armed with three unique armaments. Each of them can be upgraded by collecting tokens, and they have a specific purpose. The Rock Splitter, for example, excels against earthy rocks, while the Gold Melter and Ice Crusher also have unique perks. Each one behaves differently, so you’ll have to learn to use them all.

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While it may not sound like much on the surface, the game has two advantages that set it above its peers: outrageously tight controls and cleverly implemented physics. The first is crucial, because it gives her the ability to navigate in and out of debris with ease – but it’s the second that makes her really special. Unlike most other titles in the genre, you’ll rarely find yourself subjected to an overwhelming onslaught of projectiles here; instead, it is your own actions that will cause it. For example, if you cut a rock wrong, you will fill the screen with black stones, a kind of natural **** of bullets.

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It’s as fun as ever in this PS4 edition, and the implementation of DualShock 4 features like the light bar and built-in speaker help provide information not present in the original version. The problem is that there isn’t much else to excite existing fans. Blockade, a mode that melds the title’s basic evasion rules with Snake, is nifty, but probably the worst option on the list. And while we’re big fans of Twitch’s features in Interactive – letting viewers vote on whether they’d like to help or hinder the person in control – it’s a novelty at best.

Meanwhile, couch co-op and competitive modes have also made the jump, but while these will be welcomed by local multiplayer players, it’s a shame an online option hasn’t been introduced. The closest thing to this is a challenge system, which allows you to send your high scores to your friends, but which is awkwardly integrated at best. Worse yet, the developer seems to have prevented more than 1,000 scores from appearing on the leaderboards at once, which means that unless you’re an expert, you’re never going to see where you stand against the rest of the world.

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conclusion

It’s hard to describe Super Stardust Ultra as a disappointment, because the game’s core loop – almost eight years after its original introduction – remains as enjoyable as ever. That said, this doesn’t seem like the next frontier for Housemarque’s revered shooter series, but more of a stopgap solution along the way. Veterans should know that aside from some visual enhancements and additional modes, this is pretty much Super Stardust HD. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course; newcomers are encouraged to sign up for this right away.

good 7/10

Scoring Policy

Review copy provided by Sony Computer Entertainment