Super Stardust Delta Review
I might be a bit late jumping on the Vita bandwagon, having gotten the system about a month after release, but Sony has ensured that I'll get all of those wonderful early-adopter annoyances along with having to buy a ridiculously-priced memory card instead of getting one free at launch. Honestly, I was regretting my PS Vita purchase while I was trying to download a few initial demos and games, staring at that progress bar creep along at the snail's pace that we all now know to expect when downloading from PSN. The system looked and felt good, but only once I fired up some games did I not feel like my investment in Sony's new portable wasn't wasted. Super Stardust Delta was my first choice, and let me tell you, that got me on the Vita hype train very quickly.
Delta is a dual-stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars, but on a spherical battlefield orbiting one of five planets, each broken up into five phases. The planet as a whole is your challenge, and each phase ends with a flurry of enemies you have to kill to complete the phase. Of course, enemies will be coming in nearly constantly - especially on the later planets - along with asteroids that will immediately remind you of the early arcade classic. On the way, you'll fight for points, persistent weapon upgrades, EMP bombs to fire, touchscreen-enabled missiles, and even deployable black holes which can be a huge help or a death trap, depending on how you use them.
You've also got the ability to turbo boost around the playfield by tapping L, but there's a short recharge time before it can be used again. The R trigger switches you between fire and ice weapons, each of which are upgraded separately and destroy same-color enemies and asteroids much faster than if you go opposite-color. A couple of notes on that - first is that this is not like the black/white system in cult-classic arcade shooter Ikaruga, as you are matching color (red for red, blue for blue) with your enemy rather than firing the opposite color. Second, there is no invincibility here, no matter what color you're using; running into enemies of any color will blow up your ship unless you have a shield powerup. The other interesting thing is that the fire weapon sends out a flamethrower-like beam with a shorter range but a constant stream of damage, while the ice weapon sends out projectiles with a wider pattern and longer range, but the damage is not as focused in one area. Upgrades to the fire beam modestly increase its range and damage, while upgrades to ice alternate between increasing the number of projectiles in a wider-firing arc and increasing the firing speed. What is nice is that once you complete a planet, your weapon upgrades are saved and brought over to the next planet.
As I guessed might happen, there are more than a few Vita launch titles trying to use as many of the system's many control methods as possible, often without regard to their long-term usability. If I've got my hands on the dual analog sticks, I don't want to try and reach my thumb to the middle of the screen to fire missiles, and I don't want to shake the system. Admittedly, since the sticks and both triggers are occupied, there really wasn't much choice, as taking your thumb off the stick for firing is rather bad as well. And maybe I'm alone in thinking this, but I feel that more of the Vita should allow the d-pad and sticks to control inputs in menus and the like, rather than relying entirely on the touchscreen. It's nice to have those options, but after all, I bought a Vita so I could have "real" gaming controls rather than the smartphone controls I'm trying to avoid.
Let's get back to the game. The types of enemies you fight are often sneaky or deceptively fast; for example, buzzsaws will top to spin up and then lash out at you at a speed you can only avoid by sidestepping or boosting out of the way. The worm-like enemies often come at you from an angle you don't expect, while other enemies are simply there to land on top of you unless you get out of the way. Finally, each of the Phase 5 bosses is unique and fun to fight, with patterns and positioning you'll eventually learn well enough to defeat with just one or two lives left. And you'll need to be able to accomplish a kill with only that left, as you only get three in the main game. Once you start racking up scores, you can compete with your friends' scores over PSN, and even play around in a few little mini-games - although these are only a mild distraction from the main game at best.
For those that don't want to use the touchscreen or accelerometer-powered, shake-your-Vita black holes, you can rebind the attacks to the face buttons. On top of that, there is a Pure version of the main game that gets rid of them and puts the EMP bomb on your X button, which is reasonably easy to get to even while shooting with the right thumbstick. It feels like the developers are letting me out of the responsibility of the new touchscreen, but at the same time I wonder if I'd only be doing better with those tools at my disposal if I could just get used to these wacky controls. Maybe the developers should have just forced me to deal with it anyway. Of course, the Vita is far from the first console to include touchscreen controls in a traditional game - Nintendo's portables have been doing this for years - but they usually just give you really big buttons to hit, not asking you to actually aim at a location on the screen.
From a graphics perspective, SSD is absolutely brilliant. The Vita's screen resolution is fantastic and the game takes advantage of it nicely, also running at what I believe is 60fps, showing hundreds of objects on the playfield at once. The colors are bright, the enemy designs cover a nice range from small and swarming to large and imposing, and the player gets solid visual feedback on nearly everything done. Sure, sometimes I found it tough to keep track of so many things moving on the Vita's 5" screen and half of my deaths come by being blindsided by something I didn't even remotely see coming, but considering how often that has happened in the Geometry Wars games and even the classic Robotron 2084 that spawned the dual-stick shooter three decades ago, it's probably not the game's fault this time around.
The price set for Super Stardust Delta is a very modest ten bucks, and for that you get a complete-feeling package with a solid set of features, even if there's nothing in the way of multiplayer modes or the like. There's some add-on DLC for another eight bucks (or fifteen total if you buy the game and the DLC together), and this adds new separate modes to play around with. Overall, I find the base game to be priced rather attractively, and right now a good bargain is hard to find on Vita - period. So if you're even remotely a fan of arcade shooters and you're thinking about a Vita, then put this game on your download list when you do make the plunge. Just, go make a sandwich and see a movie - preferably a long one - before expecting to get to play.