Velocity is probably the most fun I've had with the Vita since it launched, which is particularly impressive for a title that's not even specifically for that platform.
Still - this PS Mini looks good and plays great on Sony's powerful handheld. UK developer FuturLab has crafted a scrolling shooter that does its best to wriggle out of any simple classification, essentially weaving together a mix of puzzler, racer and a classic chain-blaster reminiscent of vintage 80s titles.
It shouldn't technically work, but it does - its myriad components gel together seamlessly, and a well-pitched campaign helps players get to grips with each element ahead of the complicated later stages. You can teleport through walls, drop bombs, accelerate the speed of the screen's linear roll, and eventually you're given the ability to drop a beacon that allows you to return to previous points as the game starts demanding you disable electric barriers in sequence.
Perhaps these elements could come together slightly better - the teleporting controls can feel a bit fiddly, and dropping one of your tactical respawns is telegraphed so heavily the whole process may just as well be a QTE, but there's still a harmonious mesh to watching everything come together and marvelling at how well FuturLab has achieved such a task. The studio's manifesto aims for smart thinking, and Velocity is certainly a clever game.
A four-tier medal system helps mould your progression through the campaign, and the game also does its best to hide 20 devious additional levels (on top of the main campaign's 50) by dotting yellow pods around each stage, and in increasingly obfuscated areas. The game's stated goal is that you rescue survivors from each stage, but your real mission is doing it with an element of grace, and this is a game not so much about shooting but manoeuvring through the bisected corridors of increasingly disparate alien environments.
Admittedly, bunging together a retro aesthetic with a heavy focus on big scores is a commonplace sight at the moment, but Velocity manages to keep up. Plus, elegantly taking down a series of switches while fending off enemy attacks and bombing a defence grid directly activates the part of my brain that makes me love games.
Velocity's greatest problem, sadly, is that it's a PS Mini and almost certainly destined to a life of obscurity because of it. As it stands, though, FuturLab's latest effort showcases the potential quality of high-quality, modest-price titles on a digital handheld storefront. If Sony is going to take its handheld fight to Apple, it's going to be with games like this.
Version Tested: PS Vita