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Angry Jedi

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Pete Davison

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Greased Lightning: Velocity 2X

by Angry Jedi » Sun Sep 14, 2014 2:13 pm

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I adored the original Velocity. (It was, as it happens, one of the few games we posted an article about on the old Squawkbox site.) It tickled a significant proportion of my own personal appeal elements -- the only ones missing being doe-eyed anime girls and the use of extravagant swordplay during combat -- and was, quite simply, a great game. Developed by a UK-based team, too, which is always nice to see.

The reason Velocity was so good was partly because it didn't restrict itself to the conventions of the genre it ostensibly belonged to. While looking like a straightforward vertically scrolling shoot 'em up on the surface, the brilliance of Velocity shone through as you started to progress through its 50 stages, and the game started opening up more and more mechanics for you to master.

Initially you were just negotiating scenery and blasting enemies; then you were collecting pods containing survivors that needed rescuing; then you were using your ship's short-form teleport to pass through walls; then you were flinging bombs in four directions rather than just firing straight ahead... and so on. By the end of the game, at which point you were long-range teleporting back and forth across the length of levels in order to precision-bomb numbered switches in the correct order so that you could proceed past deadly coloured forcefields, the game bore little resemblance to what it appeared to be during its opening moments.

And yet, despite this gradual evolution, the experience felt wonderfully consistent; out of all the mechanics involved, none of them seemed to be underbaked, and all fit together very well to create a variety of different level types -- some of which demanded you fly through as quickly as possible, others of which tasked you with negotiating several different routes, then teleporting back to explore the other pathways.

I mention this in such detail because the recently released sequel for PlayStation 4 and Vita, one Velocity 2X -- no, I don't know if it's "two-ex" or "two times", either -- is exactly the same way, only more so. There's one significant addition to the formula for Velocity 2X, and while it sounds like it might be at odds with the gameplay in the previous version, it actually, thankfully, slots seamlessly into the experience as a whole.

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That new addition is side-scrolling platform segments. Some people have mistakenly described these as being akin to Metroid, but that's a poor, surface-level comparison largely based on the fact the game features a female protagonist with the ability to fire in any direction when on foot. In actual fact, what Velocity 2X's on-foot segments resemble more than anything are the pure speed moments of the good Sonic the Hedgehog games -- sequences that, if you know what you're doing and have decent reactions, you can breeze through with seemingly superhuman reflexes, much to the surprise and delight of anyone who happens to be watching you at the time. (Alternatively, if you're me, you can choke the moment someone starts watching you play and immediately run repeatedly into one of the many deadly glowing red walls.)

The game structure of Velocity 2X is almost identical to its predecessor. You can complete each level by simply making it through having collected a certain proportion of the survivor pods, but the real challenge in the game -- and the source of its longevity for many players -- comes in attempting to "perfect" a level, which involves doing five things: completing the level within a certain timeframe; collecting all the survivor pods; collecting all the crystals found in the on-foot segments; scoring all the points it's possible to score in the level (by destroying enemies, collecting all pickups and smashing all smashable objects); and, most importantly, not dying once.

This could easily be a frustrating experience, but one of the best features of Velocity 2X's game design -- and indeed that of its predecessor -- is that it appears to have been built with speedrunning in mind.

This is an interesting thing because "speedruns" are, in many cases, brought about by deliberately exploiting game mechanics in ways the designers didn't intend them to be exploited. Enemies can be skipped; sections of level can be bypassed; glitches can be used to race through otherwise tricky areas. There's a certain skill to developing a good speedrun, tool-assisted or not, but there are some gamers who turn their noses up, believing them to be "not playing the game properly".

Velocity 2X, meanwhile, has been built in such a way that speedruns are an inherent part of the game design -- and indeed to perfect a level you'll need to effectively speedrun it. You'll need to use the right shoulder button to either speed up your ship or make protagonist Kai run faster; you'll need to charge headlong into danger with little care for your own safety -- who dares wins and all that -- and you'll often have to combine techniques together in the name of shaving a few seconds off your time. You'll also need to learn the levels very well -- but thanks to the handheld-friendly design of the game, with no level lasting more than about three minutes, tops, if you know what you're doing, this is something that anyone can pull off with a bit of practice.

I haven't even mentioned the gorgeous audio-visual aesthetic of the game, which features lovely smooth, vector-style graphics at a rock-solid 60 frames per second and a thumping electronic soundtrack that complements the action perfectly; nor have I mentioned how the understated (and easily ignorable, if that's your bag) story actually spins an enjoyable little sci-fi tale alongside all the action. Suffice to say, though, if you're into "gameplay-first" experiences and are looking for something to both challenge you and demonstrate what a difference a dedicated, genuinely passionate and enthusiastic development team makes, you could certainly do a whole lot worse than Velocity 2X.

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