Back in my early days of PlayStation 3 ownership, I found myself shamelessly addicted to Super Stardust HD. So when Super Stardust Ultra made its way to the PlayStation 4, I did my best to avoid its evil, time-consuming siren’s call. Unfortunately, a man only has so much willpower, and I once again found the enhanced edition creeping its way into my gaming life. Naturally, just as I put the addiction to bed, it was announced that a new version was coming to the PlayStation VR. Whelp, there goes that willpower again…
Get Your Head in the Game
I am just going to be blunt and lead off by saying that Super Stardust Ultra VR is very much a game that doesn’t need to exist. That said, I am extremely glad that it does exist. It adds a level of immersion to the game that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible using a standard HDTV. Part of the reason why I say that Stardust VR doesn’t need to exist is because it adds fairly little to the overall experience, aside from that whole drowning out the world around you and consuming all of your free time, thing.
Pretty much everything that Stardust Ultra brought to the table, the VR edition does ever-so-slightly better. When playing on an HDTV, the camera is zoomed out, in order to see more of the surface area of a given planet. This provides the player with a hard limit as to what they can see at any given moment. In VR, those limits are less of a factor. The camera is drawn in closer to the ship, but now the tilt of your head can be utilized to get a better view of what is coming from any direction.
On the surface, the whole concept of integrating head-tracking into the camera controls seems like a minor enhancement. In execution, however, it adds a new level of immersion to the combat, as well as a much wider vantage point of what is happening around the planet. This is not to say that it is an unfair advantage, but for those that are already extremely proficient, it’s just one more avenue to increase their already bloated high scores.
Let the Invasion Begin
Though most of Super Stardust Ultra VR feels like very well-trodden ground with a different coat of paint, they did manage to bring one new mode to the table; the aptly named “Invasion” mode, places players in the cockpit of the vehicle that they normally are stuck viewing from the top down. The key goal is to protect the ground from invading forces, all from within the confines of a ground anchored ship. Think of it like the demented lovechild of Space Invaders and Battlezone, only portrayed with a bit more visual flair.
The controls of the ship should be fairly familiar to anyone who has played another launch VR cockpit-based game. The left stick controls navigation front-to-back and left-to-right. As you might expect, the right stick is used to control the actual rotation of the ship itself. Targeting is completely mapped to the head-tracking of the PlayStation VR headset. Simply aim your face in the direction of what needs to be dispatched, then fire away!
Instead of offering up a variety of stages, players are confined to a single battlefield, where they must try to fend off wave-after-wave of baddies. Enemies will attack along any one of three different planes. There are insect like creatures that skitter across the planet’s surface, ground units that hover at exactly the same height of as the player, and then airborne battleships. All of the enemy units will attempt to converge on the player in an effort to overwhelm and disorient, while both the hovering units and flying spaceships will also fire back using their on-board arsenal.
Once the action actually commences, it becomes painfully obvious that despite the 3D presentation, the gameplay itself is rather one dimensional. Be prepared for a ton of hovering backwards as swiftly as possible, while simultaneously trying to dispatch countless herds of attackers. The main reason why backtracking is so crucial is because, at least early on, adversaries have an odd penchant for only attacking from head on. Granted, this odd AI quirk eventually tapers off and flanking becomes more frequent, but the speed of the player’s ship still dramatically outpaces all opponents.
Eventually the pace does pick up rather substantially, however, the invaders never seem to be enough of a threat to inspire any sort of fear or dread. Every time that I died, it never felt like it was the attackers that beat me. Instead, I would be frustrated with myself for making an ill-advised decision. Despite fairness being considered a hallmark of a well-balanced game mode, it also seemed to lack any sort of urgency or challenge.
Another interesting note is how quickly the visual charm of the first-person cockpit view begins to wear off. At first the perspective seems cool and interesting, but before long you realize everything that populates the world is rather ugly. Maybe this swift tarnishing is due to the limited variety of units or the fact that dozens of the same identical object are rendered on the screen at the same time, but ultimately the result is still the same: monotony. It was encouraging that Super Stardust Ultra VR attempted to try something innovative, but there is no way it was ever going to come remotely close to displacing the classic arcade modes. Invasion simply doesn’t have the legs to sustain more than a few sessions, before growing tiresome.
Enough Bang for Your Buck?
Given Sony’s track record with the Super Stardust series, it only made sense that it would be christening the new hardware at launch. Super Stardust Ultra VR delivers on everything that players have come to expect from the brand, while not deviating too far from the source material. The enhanced camera controls are a fantastic new addition, but most certainly not a game-altering mechanic. Also, the inclusion of the new Invasion mode doesn’t end up delivering on the addictive qualities that have been synonymous with the prior iterations.
It is hard to shake the feeling that Stardust VR could have been an update to the current PlayStation 4 iteration of the game. The new VR mode and enhanced presentation could have very well been either free or paid DLC for the existing game, instead of a standalone release that repackages all of the content from the PS4 iteration. While I’m not interested in drawing a value assessment of the overall package, rest assured that Super Stardust addicts like myself will not be disappointed with this purchase. Just know that if you weren’t a fan of previous installments, this will not be changing your opinion. Beware: your mileage may vary.
(Editor’s Note: It was brought to our attention by the good folks over at D3T that VR functionality actually IS available as a reduced-priced upgrade for existing owners of Super Startdust Ultra. Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.)
Super Stardust Ultra VR review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.