Velocity Preview: Mini Marvel

You shall know our velocity.

They've been funny little things, these PlayStation Minis. Set up not exactly as an alternative to the App Store but certainly an analogue of it, the initial promise was clear; here was a place where you could find the kind of sugar-sweet candy bar snacks that have slowly taken over the world through iOS. The results, though, have been disappointing - too many thoughtless ports of mobile games, and too many opportunistic cash-ins.

There've also been some brilliant curios - Die Gute Fabrik's Where Is My Heart was a delightful platformer and a true highlight of 2011 - and it's provided a place for smaller, sparky outfits to prove their stuff. Mediatonic showed its worth with Who's That Flying, and Brighton-based developer FuturLab's been doing much the same.

It already had a crack with Coconut Dodge, a brutally simplistic game in which you - a crab that seemed to have scuttled out of Rare's character design lab circa 1999 - dashed from left to right in order to avoid some falling fruit. And that, quite simply, was that, though its basic premise belied a devilishly taut arcade experience.

And now FuturLab's back for a second crack at the Minis with something completely different - a vertical 2D shooter that, underneath its perfectly studied retro aesthetic, is achingly modern. Unlike its previous effort, you can do much more than move left and right - in Velocity you've complete freedom of movement, and thanks to its chief mechanic it's possible to even teleport across the screen.

Velocity's soundtrack comes via Joris de Man, who's previously worked on Killzone.

There's more to it than that - much more - and what immediately impresses about Velocity is how FuturLab's able to layer on the mechanics while still maintaining the crisp arcade sensibilities of its previous game. See, Velocity's more than a shooting game - it's also a racing game and, at certain points, can feel a bit like a puzzler too.

So yes, at a base level you control a ship that flies up the screen, disposing with dancing patterns of enemies with a shooter that can be slowly upgraded and collecting little gems - or survivors, in the game's own parlance - in order to best your score.

But you've got the ability to speed up your progress by squeezing the right shoulder button - an accelerator, in a word - and you're rewarded for racing through levels. On top of that, levels are sprawling mazes with occasional dead ends and insurmountable barriers that must be teleported past, necessitating a simple process that has you holding down a single button and marking out your destination with the d-pad.

Throw in bombs that can be directed in one of four ways, multiple pathways that sometimes demand you drop off teleport points in order to progress and several layers of rewards and trophies and you've got a remarkably complex little game, and one whose real achievement is how breezy it remains to play.

It's capped off with an aesthetic that, while leaning towards the now well-worn retro look, is at a least well-informed throwback to the 90s shooter heyday. For me, it manages to find a hitherto undiscovered place somewhere between PC Engine titles such as Star Soldier and brainier, starker Amiga efforts such as Project X.

It's due for release later in May and, as ever with Minis, is playable across PS3, PSP and Vita - and right now it seems as good a way as any to keep Sony's latest handheld busy as the dust threatens to settle on it. Velocity's fairly generous for a Mini, then, and certainly one of the more ambitious games on the service.

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