It's hard not to be impressed with the sheer amount of tech that has been squeezed into the Vita, Sony's latest handheld. However, the release of the Vita has invited critics to question: do we need the Vita in an era of cellphone gaming?
More than any other game available at launch, Super Stardust Delta is the game that will silence the critics. Why? Because it proves that the Vita is not a product of a bygone era, providing a compelling experience that simply can't (and shouldn't) be done on another handheld platform.
Like its PS3 predecessor, Super Stardust Delta is a downloadable twin-stick shooter that has players destroying falling asteroids with an assortment of power-ups. Delta shares the same strengths as its console inspiration: the overwhelming meteor count and the dazzling particle effects are no less spectacular today. The tight controls highlight how sturdy the Vita's dual analog sticks are. Both Stardust veterans and newcomers will find it easy to jump in.
While Delta may appear to be largely unchanged from its PS3 counterpart, Housemarque has refined the gameplay a bit, making it a better game. There are only two weapons instead of three, with the all-purpose rock crusher being removed. Whereas on the PS3, it was possible to just get by with the default weapon, Delta makes it very clear that you will have to switch between the two main weapons in order to survive. There's also a new slow-mo effect added for when you boost. It gives you an extra second to think, reposition your ship, and it generally looks cool. There's also collectible stardust which, when absorbed, can unlock additional bonuses for players. Stardust is left behind by destroyed enemies and disappears quickly, encouraging players to kill enemies close--and not from afar.
With PS3-quality graphics and dual-analog controls, Super Stardust Delta is an experience that is, simply put, not possible on any other handheld right now. At $10 for the download, it proves that Vita can offer a happy medium for portable gaming, offering much more depth than the typical iPhone game, without the $40 sticker tag that many other 3DS and Vita games are demanding.
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Oddly, Super Stardust Delta's faults only further prove Vita's worth. In addition to the core arcade experience, Housemarque has added a number of mini-games that take advantage of the Vita's other hardware features. Crush, for example, uses the Vita's dual touch screens to allow players to "pinch" oncoming asteroids to destroy them. It was difficult to pull off, and was simply not fun. Disc Slide has you using the touch screen to drag a ship away from enemies. It's a bit too easy to die in this mode given your finger is covering the most important part of the screen: where you want to go. Rock & Roll makes you tilt the system to move your ship--a method that is nowhere as precise or as fun as using the dual analog sticks.
The mini-games are, quite frankly, all terrible. However, they serve as a warning: this is what Stardust would be if it weren't on the Vita. Every mini-game had me clamoring to return to the comfortable dual analog sticks that the Vita offered. There are many great games designed for a touch screen--but Stardust is not one of them.
If you have a Vita, Super Stardust Delta is a must-download. If you don't, find a way to give it a try. It may just convince you that a Vita is worth owning.
[This Super Stardust Delta review is based on the downloadable PS Vita version of the game, provided by publisher Sony Computer Entertainment America. The "Blast Pack" add-on was purchased by the reviewer with PSN wallet funds, also provided by SCEA.]