Sweaty palms aren’t something the current PS3 library seems to produce. With most games offering multiple save points or health packs around every corner, it’s taken Housemarque and their sublime Asteroids-themed shooter to finally get pulses racing. Taking the Amiga classic as it’s heart, the Finnish developers have produced a relentless, driving, planet-based blast-em-up that truly is as hardcore as it gets on the platform.
From the minimal, almost 1990s interface to the non-existent load times and intuitive controls, everything about Super Stardust HD (SSHD) is quick and obvious, with functionality at it’s core. Naturally, the twin-stick shooter has found it’s home across both Xbox Live Arcade (with Geometry Wars and Robotron) and the PSN (Blast Factor) so movement with the left stick and shooting with the right is a given, but there’s a rechargable boost and a smart-bomb across the main triggers, with weapon cycling on the secondary triggers.
Natively 1080p (and 1080i, 720p and standard definition too) SSHD is an amazing technical feat. It’s a fluid 60 frames per second at all times with particle effects, explosions and masses of onscreen objects throughout. Despite the visual onslaught it’s always obvious where the player craft is and who’s heading your way, be that asteriods or one of many times of enemy craft or bosses. SSHD’s audio is a punchy, crystal clear mix filling as many speakers as you can connect with some lovely music that although isn’t quite the techno delight it was on the Amiga is still catchy and well suited to the gameplay.
Housemarque’s twist on the theme though is the weapon variety. Colour matched to the most devastating weapon of the three, each rock or foe is red, green or blue. Cycling between the Rock Splitter, Ice Breaker or the Gold Melter as required becomes second nature almost instantly, but some tactical decisions need to be made with regards to powering up these weapons: floating within most asteroids are green capsules that once broken offer a rotating incremental boost to either a specific weapon or your score (and sometimes awarding an extra smart bomb).
The main mode, Arcade, offers a round trip through the game’s five planets (each with 5 phases) before restarting on a higher difficulty level. Purists can opt for Planet mode which presents one of the unlocked stages solus for a tight high score challenge. All scores are logged on the PSN with extensive leaderboards and some already seriously skilled players around the 500 million mark, something sure to rise given the depth of mastery possible. A 2 player (local) co-op mode is also included.
SSHD is a great package – it’s complete, timely, expertly produced and at just £4.99 it’s absolutely essential for any shooter fan.