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Super Stardust HD

The fallout from Bizarre Creations’ XBLA title Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is still being felt in downloadable console titles today, nearly four years later. Many releases are all too content to try to follow on another game’s success, leaving us consumers to work our way through quite literally a slew of adequate-if-derivative twin-stick shooters.

And yet, despite being of the same ilk, Super Stardust HD escapes being tarred with this easy criticism. The game looks and sounds stunning and is delivered at an unwavering 60fps at 720p resolution, and the gameplay has just the right amount of accessibility, depth and compulsiveness. It’s as though developers Housemarque playtested it for dozens of hours and listened carefully to the feedback, creating a near-flawless and perfectly balanced twin-stick shooter which is practically the physical embodiment of the old adage, “just one more go”.

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In SSHD you pilot a small spaceship around the atmosphere of various planets, charged with protecting them from asteroids and alien attack. There are five planets based around different elements, and in the main Arcade mode you’ll play through them, with each assault culminating in an enemy boss, before moving on to the next more difficult world. The increasing difficulty is offset by the ship’s constantly increasing firepower and ability to pick up shield and extra life tokens, as well as bombs and a recharging invulnerable boost to blast out of any trouble.

There is a variety of game modes, covering the typical likes of Survival, Arcade and Time Trial. Perhaps the game’s greatest touch is in continually displaying the sequential next high score of PSN friends, meaning there’s always a milestone to hit or one more friend to beat for those all-important bragging rights. The left stick controls the spacecraft and the right controls the shooting, with R1/L1 selecting between the three weapons (which are laser, ice and fire), R2 taking care of bombs and L2 is allocated for the boost. The controls are smooth, comfortable and responsive, allowing the player to weave through incoming hostiles like a veteran and turn on a coin’s edge.

Furthermore, there are a couple of expansion packs available on the PlayStation Network which add a variety of game modes. Team Pack allows for cooperative or competitive gameplay, and Solo Pack brings several new games modes, including Endless (surviving against increasing waves of foes) and Bomber (the only defensive or offensive items are bombs). In co-op the game truly excels; teaming up with a pal to keep the invaders at bay, whilst racing for the token pick-ups and trying to strategically support one another. It’s local co-op only, but then it means you’ll always have a buddy next to you, shouting out banter and sharing the pain. Competitive play is equally as compelling, in a race to get the best weapon tokens avoid asteroids and take down the enemy. These DLC packs are sensibly priced but even so are often reduced in promotions, and they’re well worth picking up for the complete single- and multi-player SSHD experience.

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Despite being a couple of years old, comparatively speaking SSHD has barely been superceded in terms of presentation. The visuals are detailed, sharp and surprisingly varied, and the frame rate is absolutely rock steady. The soundtrack is absolutely superb; a small collection of techno-dance tracks which easily sits up there with Shatter and PixelJunk Monsters as the best original score in any game on PSN. Menus are clear and quickly navigable and loading is kept very brief – all in all this is a superbly-designed game, and the technical and design aspect of it is magnificent.

There’s not really a lot to say about SSHD that isn’t really quite positive. The gameplay is accessible and compulsive, the content is excellent value for money, the presentation superb and most of all they really have nailed down the addictive nature of chasing high scores and trying to do better than friends. SSHD was PSN’s first really big, well received game, and even though a good couple of years have passed, it can with little difficulty still stand tall as one of the very best games on PlayStation Network.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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