Super Stardust Delta
If there was a game that cried out for the Vita’s twin sticks, Super Stardust was it. Super Stardust Portable valiantly made due with the PSP’s single stick and face buttons, but with Super Stardust Delta, fans can get the frenetic action as it was meant to be experienced.
True to series’ form, in Super Stardust Delta, players pilot a tiny ship across a spheroid, blasting massive asteroids apart and fighting enemy ships. Your ship is equipped with a pair of main weapons – a stream of fire and a spread shot – as well as a trio of special-use items. They’ll be indispensable as you work through waves of enemies while traveling across a variety of planets and tearing apart massive bosses.
I enjoy the stripped-down test of reflexes that the twin-stick shooter genre provides, and Super Stardust Delta delivers on most fronts. The Vita’s stubby little sticks are generally up to the task, though I often felt as though I was on the verge of having my thumbs slip off. The bigger issue I faced was in how the special items were deployed. When done well, these games make me feel as though I’m a microsecond away from death – leaving virtually no time for futzing with distracting button presses. It’s cool to be able to rain down missile death or deploy a screen-clearing black hole, but the Vita’s limited input options made it tough to find a seamless way to access those functions. By default, they’re called into action by tapping the rear touchscreen, tapping the front screen, or shaking the system. Sure, they all work, but they’re also tricky to pull off while simultaneously weaving through a cluttered playfield unharmed. The alternative is to map them to face buttons, which isn’t much better.
Fortunately, the main attacks become powered up enough as you progress to become less of an issue. By the time you’ve maxed out the flame attack, for instance, it’s grown from a puny flagellum to a whirling tentacle of plasma, which can spiral around your ship while wreaking havoc on the alien threat. You’ll still need to swap between it and the spread gun, depending on the enemy types, which have their specific fire-or-ice weaknesses.
Once you’re finished saving the planets from the alien threat, there are a host of minigames to occupy your time as well. They include challenges where you skid your ship along like a puck, by flinging your finger on the screen. They may not all be winners (crushing things by pinching the front and back touchscreens had better not be a Vita calling card), but they’re nifty little diversions for when you’re not up to the intensity of Delta proper.
Niggling control issues aside, Housemarque’s latest entry is a great showcase for the handheld’s beautiful screen, and a wealth of modes will keep you blasting aliens until your batteries run dry.