As the fourth iteration on a PlayStation console, Super Stardust still holds up in its most Ultra form to date. However, is it worth adding yet another twin stick shooter to your collection or are you better off leaving it in the dust?
Super Stardust Ultra is played like most twin stick shooters where one stick moves your craft and another aims and automatically shoots. One of the most unique aspects comes in the form of your arsenal which consists of three distinct upgradable weapons that you can cycle through at any time. The Rock Crusher shoots bullets that become more widespread as you power it up while the Ice Splitter is a similar weapon but has a focused projectile stream. A more specialized weapon is the short-ranged Gold Melter that releases a steady fiery beam. Besides these weapons, you have a couple other tricks up your sleeve. When things start to become hectic, you can boost through obstacles and out of harm's way, or unleash a bomb from your limited supply that destroys everything nearby. The tight controls combined with all of the rewarding power-ups make for some solid and undeniably satisfying gameplay.
If there's one word to describe how Super Stardust Ultra looks; it's flashy. Projectiles are bright neon and enemies explode in bursts of colourful particles. Even when the screen fills with enemies and obstacles, you can still navigate your ship with the help of the clean graphics and on-screen indicators where enemies will soon spawn. You have the option of playing in full 3D if you have a capable television and it looks fantastic. The heads-up display pops off the screen while the planet in the center of the stage appears alive. I highly recommend playing in 3D if you have the means to do so. The featured music is an eclectic mix of broken beats, orchestral pieces, guitar riffs, and squelching synthesizers. It's actually a refreshing change from the typical sterilized trance and techno. Most of the effects are understated which allows important events to sound more prominent. Also, robotic voices can be heard coming from your controller as they announce key moments. Overall, its flashy looks and terrific sounds end up making the game much more enjoyable.
Super Stardust Ultra's strongest trait is the vast selection of diverse modes. Arcade mode (which could be considered the main mode) is divided into five planets with each containing five phases. The last phase of every planet includes a boss fight that is always challenging and immediately gratifying to destroy. If you're hardcore enough, you can unlock additional difficulties as well. Other modes include Endless (featuring randomly generated waves), Survival (where the stage fills with indestructible objects), Bomber (you can only use bombs), Time Attack (to see how fast you can beat each planet), Impact (where you can only use your boost attack), and Blockade (a trail of rocks constantly materializes behind you). It's an unquestionably superb assortment that's a joy to experiment with. Besides these modes, you can also play against up to three friends, cooperatively with a friend, or have your stream viewers affect your game in Endless mode. If this isn't enough, you can even challenge your PlayStation Network friends to beat your high scores. There's certainly a lot of ways to play and it's easy to let the hours fly by as you merely test out the abundance of various modes.
Even though there's plenty to do in Super Stardust Ultra, that doesn't mean that it's without faults. Almost every mode is strictly about obtaining high scores with the only exception being Arcade mode where you can unlock further planets and difficulties. Because of this, your sense of progression is mostly limited to beating your high scores. Don't get me wrong, it's incredibly fun and rewarding to do so, but it would offer more lasting appeal if you could unlock new features or have some sort of challenge-based campaign. Another area that Super Stardust Ultra lacks in is stage variety as each one is simply a perfectly spherical planet. This is another missed opportunity since a multitude of different shapes and environments would have added another dimension of diversity to the overall experience.
Super Stardust Ultra is a solid twin stick shooter with tons of challenging content. High score junkies will rejoice as they challenge their friends and climb leaderboards while those just looking to blow stuff up will delight in the flashy explosions and impressive gameplay.
- + Wide variety of challenging modes
- + Tight gameplay with a compelling array of weapons and rewarding power-up system
- + Flashy graphics and satisfying audio
- - Sense of progression almost strictly relies on replaying modes to get higher scores
- - Stages are comprised of only spherical planets with almost no variation