Throughout video game history there are titles that challenge or outright shatter the boundaries of the genre that they belong to. These titles take conventions and turn them on their head, taking the player out of repetitive complacency and into the (often) exciting realms of something fresh, yet familiar.
The scrolling shoot ‘em up genre has had its own games that take conventional gameplay and add a unique twist. The classic R-Type and seminal Ikaruga both introduced players to new mechanics that complemented the genre norms and at the same time kept players on their toes. Now humble Playstation Minis game Velocity has shaken things up by creating a 2D shooter with an inspired mechanic, teleportation.
To label Velocity “shoot ‘em up Portal” is both lazy and unfair. However, much like Valve’s masterpiece, developer FuturLab has blurred the lines of the genre label attached to a game. The game’s trick is that pressing down the square button allows the player to move a cross hair to anywhere on the screen. After releasing the button, the player’s ship jumps to that area. It’s so effortlessly simple, yet adds such an amount of depth to the challenges presented. Suddenly it’s not about meeting the enemy head-on, but strategizing on the most appropriate way to draw an enemy’s fire then suddenly move into their blind spot and finish them off. It makes blowing things up just so, cerebral.
The right shoulder button speeds up the ship, meaning players must balance completing a level in the best time, and not making any mistakes that will see a life being lost. Levels aren’t simply a one-way speed-run from bottom to top though. Pressing triangle drops a teleport pod, so your ship can instantly travel back to that pod at any moment. Suddenly, Velocity becomes much more labyrinthine in its layout. Sections are blocked off with colour-coded security, meaning a traverse through areas multiple times to unlock every door and rescue every rescue pod littered throughout.
Velocity rewards exploration and dedication to learning its levels. A bronze to gold ratings system encourages multiple plays of maps, planning of the optimum routes and honing of skills to achieve the fastest completion time and a gold award. It’s simple ‘carrot-on-stick’ stuff, but that doesn’t mean it is any less pleasing. Gold medals require a great degree of skill on the player’s part, thus making the achievement all the more gratifying.
Special mention must be given to the game’s music, by Killzone composer Joris De Man. It perfectly compliments the game’s space exploration and shooting theme and is up there with Geometry Wars and Super Stardust in the list of fantastic sounds to shoot stuff to. It’s candy for the ears and never gets repetitive on even the longest quests for that gold ranking. Given Joris’ previous stellar work, this isn’t too surprising.
FuturLab has created a title that has flown in off the radar and reinvigorated what was a tired genre. The last new game that created such a buzz around shoot ‘em ups is arguably the before mentioned Geometry Wars. Velocity is a fantastic poster-child for PlayStation’s Minis brand, and one of the best titles I’ve played on my PS Vita (the best format to play it on). It’s truly energising to think of what kind of title this studio could come up with given a bigger budget. For now, enjoy the level-hopping, shooter brilliance that is Velocity.