Super Stardust Portable Reader Review
We really like it when the PSN is used properly: to release hardcore arcade games that work just as well as casual ones. Like this precious thing I'm reviewing here: Super StarDust Portable, which is based on the PS3 PSN popular game Super StarDust HD, which in turn is a remake of an old Amiga game brought to us by Housemarque.
If you've played SSHD before, you know how the game works: you control a ship in a game that reminds you of Asteroids. You have to destroy asteroids, but by gradually breaking them apart, until the pieces are small enough to be pulverized. Except that different kinds of enemies come to attack you as well. Another twist is that you have different kinds of weapons, which are most efficient for each kind of asteroid: Rock Crusher (green) for rock, Ice Splitter (blue) for ice or Gold Melter (red) for gold. As if that wasn't enough, enemies are sometimes differently colored, as an indication that the weapon with the same color should destroy them faster.
You can see where this is going. An easy way for the game to become challenging is to mix different kinds of asteroids, enemies, or both at the same time. Knowing what weapon to switch to at which time is crucial to survival. Just like being able not to panic in order to have enough smart bombs for when things get hectic, and waiting for the best time to use the boost ability, because although unlimited in number of uses, it takes a while to recharge.
Now, on the PS3, you played on a spherical surface (the planets) and that successfully gave you the correct amount of claustrophobic feel. Naturally, the PSP is not quite as up to the task as a PS3, and as such, this edition is in 2D, but also with objects circulating from the edges of the playing field. The planets, depicted in the background, do look larger, and that's a good thing though. Having said that, the graphics look great, and the all the chaotic action is displayed at a nigh-flawless 60 fps on the PSP's little screen.
Another difference between versions that might get some of you worried is the control scheme. After all, the PS3 game is a renowned twin-stick shooter. First of all, the controls are completely customizable. Second of all, like many suspected before, it does use as a default the analog for movement and the face buttons for shooting in each direction, and you hold two buttons for shooting in a diagonal direction. But there was a lot of care taken with this: you can spray shots in a narrow angle by tapping a button (or indeed two as well), rather than holding it. Also, the ship smoothly rotates the shooting direction when you switch from a main direction to a diagonal, and if you're wondering about how to do the gold melter shield trick (that was done on the PS3 by rotating the right analog stick), just hold any three buttons while using the gold melter. Controls are smooth and responsive, and really make one realise that the second analog stick might not be that important, after all.
Overall, it's the little tweaks in the scoring system and the multiplier mechanics that make it work so well and make it so brilliant. The game encourages fast gameplay: stay alive for long enough, scoring enough at the same time by destroying enemies and asteroids, and the multiplier increments. The boost ability is also very cleverly implemented in that it can be used both defensively and aggressively: you can use it to run away from a particularly numerous shower of asteroids, or you can use it to break larger asteroids in half. In fact, use the boost to catch bonus points items lined up in the screen in quick succession, and you'll stack up additional bonus multipliers for this.
You have 5 planets of Arcade Mode to unlock, so you can also play any one of them in Planet Mode, and a sixth planet which is where the PSP-exclusive Impact Mode takes place. It basically is a mode in which you cannot shoot, and must destroy as many enemies as possible using only the boost and the smart bombs abilities. Yes, it's difficult to adjust the mindset at first, but it's as entertaining as the arcade modes.
The game is pure brilliance, there is no other way to describe it. It does what it claims to do: fast shoot'em-up action. Does not go without saying, it's not perfect, and more modes that are available on the PS3 version already could have been ported.
Had Sony released this as a UMD around the PSP launch, maybe it would have made the PSP more popular from day one. As it stands, it's a nice extra for those hardcore folks who already own a PSP.
It costs 8 euros to download, and it only uses up 74Mb of your Memory Stick. Just bloody buy it
9 / 10