Unlike most people in the community, I really don’t mind HD remakes, remasters, and re-releases. Sure, they’re an easy cash grab that feed on nostalgia, they are great to play once in awhile after the older consoles have been packed away. These re-releases often take advantage of a system’s new hardware, offering better resolutions and frame rate that wasn’t afforded to them years before. In the case of Grand Theft Auto V and Dark Souls II, these remasters add enough features to grant the experience new life. Super Stardust Ultra exists in a space between justifiable remakes and pointless ports. An “enhanced” version of Super Stardust HD, it’s existence was the first re-release to make me go, “huh?” It is an fantastic game, don't get me wrong, but with no sexy or discernible differences between this version and the game I played on the PlayStation 3, Ultra's existence feels like the product of a Sony exec’s desperate call for more PSN games on the PlayStation 4.
A fun blend of games like Missile Command and Asteroids, Super Stardust is a dual stick shooter that pits the player inside a small, fragile starship as they zoom across a planetary shield blasting away massive asteroids, icy comets, giant boulders made out of space gold, and all sorts of nasty alien critters. Not noticeable differences have been made to the frantic, eye drying gameplay that is eager to throw so many obstacles in your path. A progressive increase in difficulty through each of a level’s five phases ensures that targets are plentiful. The asteroids themselves are a particular nuisance because they’ll break up on impact, causing a shower of smaller, faster moving projectiles. Sentient enemies may be small, but their presence makes for a complete nuisance as they tend to crowd your airspace at the most inopportune time. The player’s ship is equipped with three main weapons that are perfect for quickly destroying specific enemy types but effective enough to use against all targets variants. I personally tend to favor the gold melter, an intense beam weapon that can cut through swaths of enemies at once. These weapons can be upgraded by collecting power-ups that randomly appear from fallen enemies and special green asteroid cores. These boosts do not last as they degrade over time and are taken away when the player ship is destroyed.
Super Stardust can often be unforgiving at times, even on its easiest difficulty setting. The free wheeling shards of larger asteroids combined with homing mines and other erratic moving foes give the game a “Blink And You Die” mentality of play. A limited supply of screen clearing bombs and a speed boost are great tools to make last minute escapes. With so much activity on screen, it makes dying to an errant, unseen chunk of asteroid all the more infuriating. The player’s ship can only take one hit before death and speaking as someone who lost their Super Stardust HD chops, such cheap and relatively unpredictable deaths suck. The more time spent understanding the ship’s capabilities and learning to boost away from the fray ensures that the player grows more confident and skilled in planetary defense.
Super Stardust Ultra comes with its fair share of game modes for solo players, some of which are time based, survival challenges that limit your offensive capabilities. Online play consists of challenging other players to beat scores or engage in co-op. The most interesting feature is an Interactive Stream feature that magically lets your broadcast audience affect your game. Packed to the gills with different modes for online and off play, Super Stardust Ultra is a perfectly competent port of the last gen downloadable game. It’s addition to the PSN PlayStation 4 catalog is a bit of an oddity. I really don’t see people who spent hours with Super Stardust HD flocking to play through it again. Like Pepsi, Ultra is likely to be the choice of a new generation. Apart from adding a new game to the short list of PSN exclusives, the game seems better suited to a different audience, unless there are people out there that feel nostalgic for an eight year old game.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.