Housemarque’s seminal twin-stick shooter franchise comes to Vita in style, offering gorgeous graphics and the same addictive gameplay fans have come to love, with a few console-exclusive additions to sweeten the deal.
World-building & Story
Stardust isn’t a series known for its story and Delta is no different in this regard – it’s merely a series of connected levels that allow you to chase after high scores while destroying all sorts of space debris and alien species along the way.
There’s no real world-building either, although you’ll visit a variety of locations they feature no lore and are merely shells for the action to take place on. This isn’t something I can really fault the game on, but a little back-story would have been nice.
Presentation & Sound
You wouldn’t guess that Super Stardust Delta was a launch title for Vita just by looking at it, as a great deal of care has gone into the presentation and the game remains graphically impressive to this day.
All of the action takes place around spherical planet cores which you can view through the grid that you’ll be navigating around. These are populated with various enemies and by moving your ship around and firing weapons you’ll be able to take these out. The planets and indeed the ship itself are nothing special – merely decent looking to get the job done, but it’s everything else that stands out.
The various things you’ll attack on each planet range from blocks of ice to worm-shaped aliens and all sorts in between. They’re all beautifully animated – ice glistens in the light; worms slither towards you; asteroids pour in from the atmosphere etc. Everything is colour-coded to the game’s weapons systems (more on that later) meaning most things are bright and stand out on the background, a touch I found quite impressive.
Speaking of weapons, attacks are colourful and exciting, often lighting up the screen as they go off. You’re limited to two types in this iteration – gold cutter and ice blaster – though the sweeping orange and intermittent blue of each go well together. The way they connect with enemies is what’s most impressive – a sea of particles will often flow out upon impact and little touches like the ice crackling are really nice. Proceedings are spruced up by special attacks – some return from previous Stardust games (bombs) while others are entirely new (black holes), but they all pack a visual punch.
Other incidental parts of the presentation are also fine – loading screens sport a nifty view of the stars which moves if you tilt the Vita; menus are decently responsive and nice to look at (although sadly can only be controlled by touch, a disappointing choice given most of the rest of the game lets you choose between touch and traditional controls).
Sound is the real jewel in the presentation crown, however. Whether its the sultry voice of the narrator announcing the mode; the sci-fi chitter of laser shots firing over the screen or the satisfying clang of selecting options in the menu, everything just works extremely well. The soundtrack is the highest point of all, full of electro and trance music that serves to enhance the action taking place on screen yet is very addictive in its own right.
Gameplay & Content
As a very traditional twin-stick shooter, Super Stardust Delta doesn’t do a great deal to deviate from genre norms, although some Vita-specific additions experiment with new gameplay methods. Sadly these miss more often than they hit, but the core experience is so solid that the extra content does nothing to diminish this.
The most common way to play – across modes such as arcade and planets – is as a traditional twin-stick shooter having you move the craft with one stick and shooting with the other. As previously mentioned, worlds are spherical – which means although you’ll still be moving up, down, left and right, you’ll actually be navigating a planet at the same time. This creates an interesting dynamic as things can always be happening across the map which you can then travel to and experience, leading to very dynamic feeling encounters.
Your craft is easy to get to grips with, handling well and capable of maneuvers such as boosting or firing a bomb which can help get you out of a pinch if surrounded by enemies. You’ll have two main weapons – a gold cutter and an ice blaster, and a quick press of the trigger will switch between the two. It’s this which forms the core mechanic for the series – each weapon is optimal at taking out a certain type of enemy or environmental object and quickly switching between the two depending on the situation is what’s required.
As such, enemies and environmental hazards come in two different varieties – red and blue, meaning you’re constantly swapping to take these out. The colour-coding of weapon and foe alike works extremely well – although it sounds simple in theory, the game needs this as the action is so fast paced that anything else would’ve been too complicated to keep up with. And although this is one less weapon type than Super Stardust HD, the game doesn’t suffer for it – there’s enough variety in combinations between the two that things never feel stale.
Through the campaign, you’ll play sets of levels that culminate with a large boss battle at the end. Unlike earlier encounters, these often require perfect positioning through waves of laser shots alongside very specific strategy to take them down. They’re challenging; visually stunning and make a good way to book-end each bit of progression, leading to a nice sense of achievement throughout.
Of course, it isn’t all just about blasting foes with bright laser weapons and Delta has other systems at play to ensure you’re constantly thinking. Collectibles are abundant – whether its tokens to provide increased firepower or the titular stardust which is used to increase score multipliers, allowing you to reach greater highs compared to your friends. The game places a big emphasis on replaying levels to chase the biggest possible score, right down to the fact that each level has an automatic comparison to how the people on your friends list have done upon selection. As such you’re encouraged to take risks on getting score multipliers when surrounded by enemies, knowing it will help you beat that just-out-of-reach score from someone you know (at the risk of dying and losing out entirely).
It all comes together to ensure that the core gameplay is the best Stardust has ever been – addictive, thrilling and rewarding with enough challenge to make it worthwhile without being so overwhelming that you want to hurl your Vita against the wall. If you mess up it’s undoubtedly your fault, but if you succeed it’s because of something you did.
Of course, for this version Housemarque added a few Vita-specific bells and whistles. For starters the main game can be played in ‘delta’ mode, allowing tilt and touch controls, but these are far too imprecise to be of use in a shooter like this. There’s also a plethora of new modes, some of which work well (using a tractor beam to crash asteroids into one another) while others are just bizarre (using the touch screen to guide a UFO to only hit blue objects).
Content-wise, the game is what you make of it. It won’t take you more than a few hours to see everything it has to offer, but if you’re encouraged to chase higher scores and revisit because you’re enjoying what you played, then it will potentially last you a lot longer. It’s certainly on my list of games which have never left my memory card that I return to every now and again because it’s so much fun to play in short bursts.
Other than the content offered by the base game, Super Stardust Delta offers additional things to do through the ‘Advanced Starfighter’ DLC pack, offering four new modes to try your hand at for the relatively cheap price of £2.49.
These are hit and miss but some provide a nice challenge – bomber for instance only allows you to attack using bombs meaning you have to carefully think each time you use one as you have a limited amount. It’s one mode in particular that’s central to this DLC however – endless, that basically acts as a survival tasking you to survive as long as you can throwing increasingly difficult waves of enemies at you in the meantime. It’s challenging, repayable and in my opinion the best way to play Stardust, meaning it’s indispensable to the experience on Vita.
Advanced Starfighter provides enough content to make it well worth the price of admission – it’s one of the better pieces of downloadable content on Vita and makes a fantastic game that bit more perfect.
One of the jewels in Vita’s launch lineup crown and an incredibly impressive game to this day, Super Stardust Delta packs all addictive gameplay of its home console predecessor into a fantastic portable package. It’s gorgeous to look at; full of things to do thanks to its high-score chasing nature and a very reasonable price considering what’s on offer. Some superfluous extra modes making use of Vita’s extra features are unfortunately added, but they’re not bad enough to drag down what is otherwise a fantastic experience.