Version tested: PlayStation Vita
Fire and ice. Move and shoot. Life and death. Super Stardust Delta is a game about absolutes. It isn't concerned with grey areas or depth, but this score-attack twin-stick shooter uses its simplicity to its advantage.
As was the case with previous Super Stardust titles, you control a ship orbiting a spherical force field surrounding a planet. Hazardous asteroids made of fire and ice rain down from above, and it's your job to melt and shatter mother nature's wayward minerals and rack up a high score in the process.
The colour-coded opposition is only vulnerable to one of your two main weapons, so you fight fire with fire and ice with ice. (Shouldn't that be the other way around?) Fans of Super Stardust HD will notice that the generic grey third variant of rock and its counter beam have been excised, but this only streamlines the action and makes weapon switching much more instinctive. This is a clear binary language that becomes second nature in all of two seconds.
While the mechanics remain the same throughout, there's a wealth of power-ups and score multipliers ensuring that nearly every second is a celebration of being alive. Once blown to smithereens, obstacles leave behind green stardust that can be scooped up for extra points. Several asteroids contain green ore that leave power-ups behind, too. Sometimes these enhance your firepower (or ice-power), extend your boost meter, add bonus points, or allot extra special attacks like bombs for when you're in a tight spot.
Super Stardust Delta isn't a complex game, but the beauty lies in its elegance. Cruising around a globe makes it easy to keep track of where hazards are, as there are no blind corners (or corners period) where deadly objects will wander in from off-screen. Enemy spawns are gracefully handled by lasers telegraphing where they will appear, so there's never a fear of them crashing down on you without warning.
The two main weapons consist of a napalm beam that resembles the Ghostbusters' Proton Stream and a gun that launches a spread of ice crystals. Both remain incredibly destructive. Spin in a circle with the former and watch your laser whip demolish nearly half the hemisphere. You're at once extraordinarily powerful yet woefully vulnerable, with death surrounding you at every angle in the form of a one-hit kill that'll reset your score multiplier.
New to this version is Delta Mode. Here, you have three kinds of special attacks; shake the Vita to ignite the standard bomb, tap the screen where you want to launch a flurry of missiles, or tap the rear touch pad to deploy a black hole. The latter two strikes are certainly impressive from a visual standpoint, but I remain unconvinced they're any more useful than the tried-and-true bomb.
All three of these attacks come from the same stock, so it's easy to ignore whichever specials you don't fancy. It's also worth noting that controls are entirely customisable, so if you don't care for the motion controls, you can map all these specials to the face buttons.
The other additions to Delta Mode are the ability to look up or down by tilting the system, and that boosting now occurs in slow-motion. The former can be disabled for players who don't want to be mindful of how they're holding their Vitas, while the latter is only mildly useful. None of these features add much to the experience, but they're all optional, so they don't detract either. Purists who wish to forgo the Vita-centric bonuses can play in Pure Mode with no motion control or slow-motion, and the only special weapon type is bombs.
There are a few new mini-games as well. Crush has you destroy asteroids by pinching them between the touch screen and rear touch pad, Disc Slide tasks you with rolling a blue saucer around with tilt controls, avoiding red obstacles, while Orbit Bomber is about shooting down foes by aiming with the gyroscope. While a decent showcase for the system's unique capabilities, these are too lightweight to occupy players for the long haul.
Super Stardust Delta doesn't deliver anything entirely new, but it's a refined variant of one of the best twin-stick shooters around that can now be played on the go. New modes, abilities and mini-games may not add much, but they don't need to. Competing with friends for a high score remains as enticing as ever, while the intuitive, minimalist design and shimmering cosmic chaos render Super Stardust Delta a dazzling intergalactic dust-up.
8 / 10