In mid-2007, Housemarque released Super Stardust HD (SSHD) on the PlayStation Network. The twin-stick shooter was the PS3’s answer to XBLA’s acclaimed Geometry Wars. Super Stardust HD was incredibly well received, and in many ways one-upped Geometry Wars. I was personally never a big fan of shooters, but SSHD was the game that changed my opinion on the genre completely.

In SSHD, you control a ship with one analog stick, and fire weapons at oncoming hordes of foes and asteroids with the other analog stick. The R1/L1 changed weapons, R2 detonated bombs, and L2 controlled boosters. The controls were tight and perfect, and that’s just what an action-packed game like SSHD needed. Naturally, the controls in any port of Super Stardust HD would constitute one of the most important parts of the game. Overall, Super Stardust Portable (SSP) is a great game, but its control scheme, the most important factor, presents the game’s only enervation.

The sad thing is that the control scheme isn’t bad because Housemarque was lazy or didn’t try; on the contrary, the difficult controls are to blame on the PSP’s own limitations. Housemarque made the best possible control scheme for a twin-stick shooter on the PSP, and that’s where the difficulty in reviewing this game comes in: Housemarque did the best with what it had, and had I not experienced Super Stardust HD in all its glory nearly two years ago, I’d probably look at SSP in a different light.

The ship’s movement is controlled (absolutely, not relatively) with the left analog nub, while weapons are fired with the four face buttons. Weapons will fire in the direction of the pressed face buttons (X is down, triangle is up, etc.), pressing two adjacent buttons will cause the weapons to fire on the diagonals. In SSHD, one defensive maneuver was to spread fire rapidly at a 45-degree angle by wiggling the right analog stick; because this is impossible on the PSP, Housemarque cleverly added an auto-spray feature of sorts when players tap a button repeatedly.

Tap a button to spread your fire in that direction.

Tap a button to spread your fire in that direction.

You can switch between weapons by pressing up or down on the D-Pad. The three types of weapons available to the player are the Gold Melter, Ice Splitter, and Rock Crusher. Each of these weapons specializes in destroying corresponding elements. Bombs, shields, extra lives, and weapon upgrades can be gathered by picking up tokens, which come from green glowing rocks; after several upgrades, a Rock Crusher that once slowly shot one bolt stream will become a supercharged weapon, firing several bolt streams simultaneously at blazing speeds. The Gold Melter fires a constant stream of energy at targets like a fire hose. During desperate times, a player in SSHD might spray the Gold Melter in all directions by spinning the right analog stick in a circular motion. This is impossible with a PSP, so once again Housemarque cleverly adapted the controls to accommodate this: pressing all four buttons at the same time will automatically send the Gold Melter’s stream spinning. When in a tight spot, you can use the shoulder buttons to either detonate a bomb, destroying everything around you, or jet away using a rechargeable boost.

Just like its console-based older brother, SSP features five planets, each with five attack phases, to rescue. At the end of each phase, a structure is lowered down to the planet which, when destroyed, will produce a shockwave destroying everything remaining on the planet. This structure is a nice change from SSHD, which had players hunting down every last speck of rock to finish a phase. Unlike SSHD, the viewpoint is close to the planet, and not zoomed out, this is probably to speed up rendering. This altered viewpoint isn’t too much of a problem, but it does make it difficult to anticipate what is coming your way (especially the deadly blue snake-bots).

You can play through the five planets on either Arcade Mode or Planet Mode. In Arcade Mode, the planets are all played consecutively with persistent lives, bombs, and weapon upgrades. After beating all five planets on the normal mode, the game loops you through the five levels on a harder mode, which then leads to even harder modes. At the fifth and final phase of any planet, you’re presented with a boss battle; all but the fifth boss are the same as in SSHD. In Planet Mode, you can choose to play any one of the planets individually.

Always keep moving.

Always keep moving.

Unfortunately, the modes Survival, Bomber, and Endless added in SSHD’s Solo Pack are not available in SSP’s base game. They are available only through the PSN as a $4.99 pack, which I do not have. There is, however, a new mode added to SSP that is not available in SSHD. This mode is “Impact Mode”. In impact mode, you are not given access to any standard weapons, and must only use the booster or bombs. The major thing that makes this mode different from Bomber Mode on SSHD is that the ship speeds up after destroying any target with the boost. This can lead to the ship staying in a boosting state for very long periods-chaining together loads of boost-kills. This mode is loads of fun, and will give any seasoned Super Stardust player something new to master. In terms of portability, Impact mode is the best; it’s quick and easy to pick up and, unless you’re a pro, probably won’t last you too long.

Other than unlocking all of the planets through Arcade Mode, there is really no plot or game-completing point. The focus of Super Stardust has always been the high score, and SSP in no way detracts from this aspect. Although it offers no form of multiplayer action, SSP allows you to connect to any wireless hotspot and upload your best scores. You can update your score at any time by just connecting to the internet. Very few PSP games have online leaderboards, and this is certainly a great addition to the game.

Closing Comments:

As far as PSN games on the PSP go, this is one of the best. Anybody who has never played SSHD, and does not own a PS3 but does own a PSP should seriously consider dropping the $9.99 for this game. While the controls did give me pretty bad hand cramps after a few hours, they do work as well as could be asked for what the PSP has to offer. The online leaderboards are great for enticing you to do better, or showing off your skills. Any SSHD veteran looking for something to quell his or her addiction while away from the PS3 will find something to appreciate in this game. Super Stardust HD is one of Sony’s great exclusive PSN games, and for the most part, so is Super Stardust Portable.

The Rundown:

Platform: PSP (via PSN)
Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Shooter / Twin-Stick
Offline Multiplayer: None
Online Multiplayer: Leaderboards Only
ESRB Rating: E
Official Website: Developer / Console

Presentation: 8

The menu system is fast and straightforward. After losing your last life in a level, you can start again in a matter of moments. Load speed is great.

Graphics: 9

Everything runs smoothly, the explosions are beautiful, and all the stuff happening at once really shows what the PSP can do.

Sound: 8.5

The music is pumped up and quirky, each planet has its own theme, and enemy warning sounds are distinct. Sadly, there are no custom soundtracks like in the PS3 version.

Gameplay: 7.7

The game is fun and addicting, the quick nature of the game and addition of Impact Mode make it a great portable game. The major downside is the control scheme, which is unfortunately out of the developer’s control.

Lasting Appeal: 7.5

Unless you’re a high-score fiend like me, this game won’t keep you busy for too long. The unfortunate lack of extra modes limits this game in its longevity by quite a bit. Still, the online leaderboards will give people like me a reason to keep trying.


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