Super Stardust has a longer history than most gamers probably realized, having started life in the early 90s on the Amiga computer. When Sony and Housemarque brought the series back with the fantastic PS3 game, Super Stardust HD, they kept going and there’s been versions on the PSP, Vita, and now the PS4. Admittedly, Super Stardust Ultra on the PS4 isn’t much different from the previous versions–especially Delta on the Vita–but fans of the series might not mind much.
Super Stardust was always meant to be a high-tech, 3D rendered, updated version of Asteroids. On the PlayStation formats, it found its niche perfectly. The game is gorgeous, intense, and utterly playable. This is a twin-stick shooter where the goal is to survive an onslaught of space rocks and strange alien life forms and ships across a handful of mostly burned-out looking planets.
Each planet has four waves of rocks and enemies to conquer before a giant boss comes in to destroy you. Ultra brings back the three types of guns (Delta dumped it down to two, which frankly made more sense). There’s the rock crusher for general pesky rock things and guns for ice and gold. The Gold gun is a particularly satisfying whip of energy that’s tremendous fun to just spin around in circles, not that this is a great tactic. It’s just fun.
The whole game is fun. Classic, hardcore, difficult fun. Super Stardust has always been a zen-like shooting experience, where getting in the proverbial zone is an absorbing, all-consuming experience. The game balances high levels of difficulty with pristine controls and just enough strategy to make it not totally mindless. It’s not so much the satisfying shooting as the pinpoint precision of navigating a moving maze of rocks that gives Stardust such immense play value.
As a twin-stick shooter, you pilot your ship (now customizable) over a spherical landscape of doom above a planet with the left analog stick while aiming and shooting with the right stick. Switching between weapons using the L1/R1 shoulder buttons is simple and there are also mega bombs for mass destruction and the boost. The boost lets you plow through anything for a second and is especially great for quick escapes.
So, to newcomers looking for a topnotch old school shooter on their PS4, Super Stardust Ultra is a very easy recommendation. The single-player game is great and the co-op play is tons of fun. On the other hand, previous players might not be so enthused to shell out more money for a game we’ve all definitely played before. This is especially the case since, despite being almost identical to the rest of the series, Sony opted to not make Ultra cross-buy (or cross-save).
This means you’ll have to weigh whether merely having the game on the PS4 is reason enough to buy it again. The levels of the main single-player game are virtually identical to the PS3 version, but the rock-solid 60 fps 1080p resolution makes this the best looking iteration. Also, for those of us who still love playing games in stereoscopic 3D, Super Stardust Ultra is both amazing and one of the very few 3D offerings on the PS4.
Ultra offers most of the mini-game modes that were last seen on the Vita as well (and in the DLC for the PS3 version). There’s a timed mode, survival, endless, bomber (only bombs!), and the amusing impact mode where you can only boost through obstacles to destroy them. The new streaming mode is an odd addition, where the player streams their game and those watching can vote to make things harder or easier. In theory, it’s a great idea we’ll likely seen a lot more in the future, but right now good luck finding an audience.
Multi-player is still a sofa-based affair, which seems odd. Super Stardust Ultra supports same and split-screen options, but not online play. At this point, this is incredibly disappointing. On the bright side, there is a new four-player split or same screen option across several types of game modes, but it’s not quite a substitute for real online play.
As a long-time fan of this series, I’m still happy to see Super Stardust on the PS4. This is easily one of the best modern retro-style shooters on the market, right up there with Geometry Wars. The problem is that Stardust is clearly not evolving the way other similar series are. Ultra is nearly identical to the earlier games, when it should have been striving to broaden its own scope.
The game is great for what it is and a welcome addition to the PS4 library, but fans really deserve a true sequel at this point.