Super Stardust HD

The Playstation Store is becoming an excellent home for arcade-style classics, re-made in high definition, as evidenced by beautiful games such as flOw. The release of Super Stardust HD takes this to a new level, with a game that is not only an excellent store title, but actually manages to rival many of the big disc-based releases of the year. Super Stardust HD takes the classic Asteroids formula - a ship surrounded by pieces of rock, and armed with various lasers for defence - and, without re-inventing the wheel or revolutionizing the design, manages to create an entirely fresh experience that gives the genre a special place even in the current generation of consoles. Stardust is beautiful to look at, with updated gameplay that makes it a joy to play on Playstation 3.

Super Stardust HD

Setting off for the first mission, your ship is positioned above the atmosphere of a planet, with asteroids falling all over the surface around you. After receiving simple instructions, it's time to begin shooting with purpose. Three types of rock fall during the game, and your ship, conveniently, has three main weapons, each with strengths and weakness that correspond to the sort of rock they are designed to deal with. Taking the gold melter as an example, this jet of molten zappiness has reduced range, but makes short work of the more metallic asteroids that drop, swiftly reducing them to tiny, harmless pieces. Operating at long range, an ice splitter can be used to fire rapid lasers through the center of ice crystals, sending shards in all directions, but the weapon is quite focussed, requiring careful aim. To backup the main three weapons, there are also bombs available (in limited number) that can be used to clear a nearby area of space - excellent as a last resort. In terms of weaponry, this is all you need to start having fun, though there are often subtleties involving enemies that appear in the asteroids. Ranging from simple proximity mines to rapid-paced centipede-type creatures and even huge bosses, every enemy will be both resistant to a particular weapon and exposed by another.

With weapons primed, it's time to carve through five varied worlds, each with a very distinctive look and feel. Visually, the differences in planets are largely down to colour and mood, though the asteroids that fall (and enemies associated with them) tend to get grander and more spectacular as the game goes on. In addition, the boss creatures get more tricky (although it's worth noting that the variety is perhaps lacking here, since some bosses are going to be seen more than once). However, one of the most important differentiators is the music. Each level has a very distinctive and enjoyable theme that somehow perfectly accentuates the feel of each level. Ranging from triumphant and proud themes in the earlier levels, where you are merely setting out on a grand, not-so-threatening adventure, through to this-asteroid-is-so-big-you'll-be-confused-about-which-bit- is-the-planet-and-which-bit-is-the-asteroid themes (horrible use of hyphens aside, imagine scary and grand themes that make you feel like a tiny dot, but a truly courageous tiny dot).

Super Stardust HD

While that is already enough for many people (battling through five major levels with a variety of weapons to throw at stuff), there's a lot more to Stardust. For a start, when some asteroids are destroyed, they deposit pickups. These begin as high-value items and, as time passes, decrease in importance (depending on what your aims are). If a pickup is exposed and collected quickly, you may earn an extra life or perhaps shields for your ship; as time passes, the pickup may begin cycling through the three available weapon types, allowing you to improve the capability of a particular weapon (usually increasing fire rate, damage or number of channels for firing). Finally, the pickup will turn into extra points to collect, allowing you to imrpove your score. In this game, that's where the next layer of fun starts. In terms of aiming for high scores, experienced players will quickly build their weapons to the necessary level, and then start collecting only points, continually aiming for better, improved scores. There is, in addition, a boost function, which can be used to evade falling asteroids as a last minute escape, but also grants bonuses in the event that you boost through score pickups. This extra dynamic means that, for confident players, defensive mechanisms can soon be turned into scoring opportunities instead. This means that Stardust, a game that is already enjoyable and a decent challenge, can turn into a highly replayable contest to see what score you can set, and it's surprisingly addictive for this reason.

Adding even more value to the game is a co-operative mode, allowing you and a friend to share the screen and take on the range of asteroids together. It's tremendous fun and, due to resource and screen-space sharing, is a real test of co-operative ability. It's also worth noting that there are expansion packs for the game, featuring co-operative gaming with a split screen, competitive modes, and further single-player modes including time attacks, survival (a cut-down mode involving indestructible asteroids surrounding you), bomber mode (bombs only) and Endless (no levels, you just go for as long as you can). These expansions add a great deal to an already-impressive package. As a result of the incredible depth of gameplay, great replay value, fantastic music, perfect shooting mechanics and excellent co-operative mode, I cannot recommend Super Stardust HD enough. The game is brilliant, and by far the best game on the store so far. The only likely contender will be Warhawk - a game likely to be nearly full price, compared with less than a fiver for Stardust. This game is certainly worth a look in the Playstation Store.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

Housemarque

Players:

1-2

Online:

Rankings

Release:

2007-06-21

Trophies:

17

Review summary

Gameplay:

Addictive and brilliant; superb

Graphics:

Shiny and sharp, but simplistic

Sound:

Great music and effects

Lastability:

Hours of addiction to be satisfied

8.9

Supernova

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