Super Stardust HD PSN Review

Ever since this whole downloading malarkey started on consoles, with both Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade offering titles at a price that is usually wallet friendly, only three games have really stood out for me and in turn got significant playtime to make them great value for money. These games are Geometry Wars, Assault Heroes and Heavy Weapon. As you may already know these game have a few things in common. Number one, they all boast dual-joystick control. Number two, they all place you in control of an overpowered vehicle (or spacecraft) and send hoards of enemies after you. Number three, at least two of them offer fun co-op modes so you can play with friends. And finally number four, each of them is easy to pick up and play, but hard to master. Now finally, after some solid playtime with Super Stardust HD, I think there is another game to add to the list.

In Super Stardust HD, just like in the old Amiga game of the same name and the classic game Asteroids before that, you control a tiny ship with the simple aim of destroying everything you see on screen. While this may sound quite similar to a few games, perhaps some of the above named ones, Super Stardust does have a few changes just to mix things up a bit. The big difference is the game plays on a sphere, so instead of backing yourself into a corner and having to fight your way out again, in Super Stardust you don’t ever have to stop moving.

Graphically the game looks great and is easily one of the more impressive titles available for download from the Playstation Store. As you fight through the hordes it is clear to see that the game is full of little graphical touches to make it stand out from the crowd. Easily the most noticeable of these touches is the fantastic partial effects as both enemies and asteroids explode when you shoot them. The asteroids are probably the most impressive as they start out huge and, depending on where you shoot them, they start to break up into smaller pieces. The planets themselves are not all that interesting, but depending on which of the five you choose there are a few interesting things to see. Also, each end-level boss is vastly different from the one before, so it is always interesting to work your way up to them for the first time (and most probably die) as you struggle to find out their pattern of attack.

Thankfully, there is a bit more to the game than just shooting your way to victory as the game boasts three different weapons, which you can change on the fly as you fight, this will help you blow up different asteroids more quickly and as a result get more points. Firstly there is the ‘Gold Melter’ which works rather like a flamethrower, then there is the ‘Ice Splitter’ which shoots out ice bolts and finally there is the ‘Rocker Crusher’, which is your ship’s main weapon and resembles some green energy balls. Each of these three guns can be powered up by collecting upgrades from certain green coloured asteroids you blow up, with each gun topping out at an insanely overpowered 200%. A nice twist is that you can choose which one of these weapons you can upgrade as each power-up icon slowly cycles through each option, meaning if you want a certain one you will find yourself dodging different objects waiting for it to change to your preferred mode of destruction. To go along with these main guns you also have bombs, a shield and a boost which can also be collected by destroying certain asteroids. As you would expect the bombs are good for clearing enemies from within a small radius of your ship. Boost is another interesting addition as it makes you ship invulnerable for about a second, this lets you boost straight through an asteroid, smashing it to pieces. The last collectable is a shield which lets allows you to survive a collision with an object, which otherwise would have result in your craft blowing up.

As you might guess the main draw of a shoot ’em up like this is to play for as long as you can, try to stay alive, and get as high a score as possible. The longer you stay alive in the game the higher your multiplier will go, meaning you can get up to a 10x multiplier for blowing up stuff, if you die though it resets back to 1x. Now, I may be in the minority here, but I personally think that Super Stardust HD does a much better job of compelling you to get better than Geometry Wars does. Why? Well for one thing it starts out much easier and slowly guides you through proceedings for the initial five phases of the first planet. As a result many people will be able to get a score of around 2,000,000 when complete the first few sections of the game, which gives a nice feeling of satisfaction that Geometry Wars lacked. Of course, that is not to say that the game is too easy as once you get into the third and fourth phases of the second level in Arcade mode, it will really start to test you reflexes and it just keeps getting harder from there on. If you get really good at it, and somehow finish all five phases of all five planets then the game resets, keeping your multiplier, bombs, score and lives (but taking your weapon upgrades away) and starts from the first planet again; the difficulty gets turned up and the game tasks you with playing through an even harder version to increase you high score. It seems some people have managed this as the current high score on the leader board is around 345,000,000, which is just a little bit more than my 23,000,000. Nevertheless, I am still having loads of fun revelling in my ineptitude which is a testament to the games playability and addictiveness.

But wait! There is even more to speak about. Outside the main Arcade mode is the option to play Planet mode which, in all honesty, plays just like Arcade, but it keeps the action confined to one planet as you try to get the highest score possible as you fight through all five phases. This is much harder than it sounds: you can get a time bonus for finishing quickly, but you can also get a bonus multiplier the longer you stay alive and the more stuff you shoot; some smart tactics will be needed to sneak up the leader board. Interestingly the game also has a co-op mode which, unfortunately, seems a little restricted, but is still fun to play around with. In this mode, which is not available online, you and a friend share the same screen and you play just like you do in the single player game, but you are forced to stay relatively close to each other; also the closer you stay the more powerful each of your weapons get. Finally, all there is left to talk about it the audio, which brings good news and bad news. The good news is that the music is top quality, with each planet having its own theme which ends up been quite memorable, albeit far too obscure and of high tempo for you to end up humming it afterwards. The bad news, and perhaps the game’s only glaring fault, is that the sound effects are highly substandard. Even with my 5.1 system hooked up and with a reasonably powerful subwoofer included I noticed none of the explosions in the game had any oomph to them. In fact, all the sound effects felt flat and are very shabby when compared to the glorious high speed action on screen. Thankfully, this small blemish was nowhere near enough to take the shine of what is an immensely enjoyable game and one that I think I will end up playing for many months to come.

Some critics may rate Super Stardust HD as poor, this might well be based solely on the fact that it is the latest in a long line of dual-joystick controlled shooters, but I believe that is extremely disrespectful to the work Housemarque have put into the game. Yes, the game may have a few problems, but they are hardly earth shattering. For what it is, regardless of its shortcomings, Super Stardust HD is quite an exhilarating game to play. While there is no denying that game still has ties to the old classic Asteroids, it is far from just an update with shiny new lick of paint. In fact, the game is probably best described as Asteroids played at warp ten and when all is said a done, it most certainly deserves to proudly sit near the top of the pile of best downloadable titles available – regardless of platform.

Easily one of the best downloadable games available.

9 out of 10
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