Velocity / Velocity Ultra

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by FuturLab for PC, PS3, Vita, and PSP, originally released in 2012.
While Velocity falls into the overall shmup category, the core mechanics set it well apart from its shmup brethren. Most games of this sort would see you dodging bullets, avoiding walls, grabbing ever more powerful weapon upgrades, and fighting gigantic bullet-spewing monstrosities. While some elements of that gameplay exist here, the teleportation mechanics and the focus on rescuing survivors make this an entirely different experience.

The story is this: A star has just exploded and turned into a red giant. A rescue mission was sent, but it is believed that the red giant will become a black hole well before those ships arrive at their destination. Fortunately, your team has been experimenting with a “Quarp Drive” that allows for teleportation. The drive is installed on the prototype Quarp Jet and your role as a test pilot makes you the perfect candidate to set out and rescue the survivors yourself. Your enemy sees this moment of weakness as a perfect opportunity to scoop up the remaining minerals and technology in the area, offering you opposition as you set out on your rescue mission.

Things start off easy as you make your way in from the outer rim across 50 levels of increasing difficulty. This gives you an opportunity to learn the ship’s controls and the basic mechanics. You are free to run your ship into vertically-aligned walls without taking damage, unlike other games of this sort. You’ll need to keep your ship from being pinned behind a solid object and scrolled off the screen – leading to instant death – but otherwise you’re free to bank to the left and right with wild abandon. This is also handy since your ship moves more quickly than is typical in this genre.

Secondly, you learn that you are free to control the scroll speed of the level. Not the speed of your ship, mind you, but the speed at which the level moves forward. The level will slowly scroll upward of its own accord, but you can force it along more quickly. It may seem like madness to purposely make the level more difficult for yourself when you could casually plod along, destroying enemies and rescuing survivors at your own pace. However, each of the levels is timed, and completing the levels more quickly earns you a higher ranking. Beyond that, earning a higher ranking grants you more XP, which is the key to unlocking the game’s later levels, each of which are opened once a specified XP threshold is crossed. This also allows you to play unlocked levels in any order you choose.

There are many things that contribute to the amount of XP you can earn in a given level. First is time. If you allow the level to scroll on its own, it will take several minutes for you to move from the starting point to the end. However, boosting forward may allow you to complete the level in a minute or so. Gold medals are awarded for near perfect runs, requiring you to boost at every opportunity. Silver medals fall just short of that and allow for some mistakes, while bronze medals are awarded for simply completing the level before time runs out.

You are also graded on your score, which increases as you kill enemies, and you are graded on the number of survivors you manage to rescue. However, rescuing survivors is mandatory. Leave too many behind and it won’t matter how quickly you completed the level or how many enemies you killed; you will be greeted with a Mission Failed notice at the end of the level and forced to replay from the start.

As far as general progression goes, you don’t need to get a high score, full speed, and 100% rescue all in a single attempt, so you’re free to play the level once for scoring and rescue purposes and then head back in for a speed run. However, there is also a “perfect” ranking for each level, which requires you to accomplish all of these on a single run, with the added challenge of not losing any lives.

You begin each level with 3 lives, and your ship has a life bar. You can absorb quite a bit of damage from projectiles before being destroyed, but you need to be careful to avoid collisions with stationary targets, which will destroy your ship instantly, although checkpoints are fairly frequent. In some levels, you can also grab health pickups to restore your energy.

There are 3 flavors to the level structure, with each type having a different focus. First, levels marked with a red cross are geared toward search and rescue. Here, you can expect only minor enemy resistance and the focus is on tracking down as many survivor pods as possible, performing teleports to reach pods stranded behind walls (more on this in a bit), breaking open glass tubes to reach the pods within, or activating a series switches to drop laser gates guarding clusters of pods.

Combat levels are marked with a green targeting reticule. You’ll still have to rescue a minimum number of survivors and perform the aforementioned actions, but the area is much more heavily fortified. Turrets are frequent and enemy waves fly around in formations, guarding pods, powerups, and health restoratives. Players may collect special weapons with limited ammo, such as a 3-way shot and a powerful laser pulse. Destroying an entire wave of enemies will release an ammo pickup, allowing you to refill the otherwise limited supply of ammo for your special weapon, as long as you pick it up before your stock is depleted.

Finally, there are speed-based levels, represented by a yellow lightning bolt. These levels have survivor pods but very few enemies. However, the countdown timer is extremely short, often only giving you a minute or so to get through the entire level. Here, it’s generally advised to run at full speed whenever possible while grabbing as many pods as you can.

The variety in level types prevents the game from becoming tedious, as 5+ minute rescue-focused levels are broken up with heavy combat areas and high speed areas. The game also features levels that combine 2 different types, such as rescue/combat missions, which feature stretches of rescue-focused areas broken up with heavy combat zones.

Teleportation is the key special ability that sets this game apart from other shmups. At any point, you can hold down the TELEPORT button, move a targeting reticule to any point on the screen (except inside solid objects) and teleport to that location. You’ll need to do this to skip over solid objects in front of you, reach stranded survivors on the far sides of walls, and find the 20 hidden pods that unlock various challenge levels (more on this in a bit). Since you can’t stop the screen from scrolling, you’ll have to be quick about performing more difficult techniques such as performing multiple horizontal teleports, teleportation to into small areas, and teleportation into the center of an enemy wave.

As you work your way through the game, you are slowly given access to new weapons and abilities. In addition to a steady increase in firepower, you will also be given an extremely powerful bomb weapon with unlimited ammo. Bombs can be tossed in any of 4 directions, which becomes a necessity since your primary weapon only fires forward. Bombs are required for taking out enemies in multiple directions, particularly turrets, and they can be used to activate switches that are only affected by being struck from a particular direction.

Eventually you gain a new teleportation ability that allows you to drop a teleport pad anywhere in the level and return to it at will. Once this ability is introduced, you will begin facing levels with multiple branching paths. So, you can drop a teleport pad, fly down the left path and complete its objectives (rescuing survivors and activating switches) and then teleport back to the right path to do the same. Long-form teleportation is done by accessing a map and selecting the teleportation pad you wish to return to.

You’ll also encounter switches that must be activated in a specific order (hitting them out of order reactivates the force fields containing survivor pod clusters), which often requires hitting some switches along one path, and then returning to continue the sequence along another. Teleportation puzzles can get pretty complicated, often requiring multiple switch hits and even multiple switch sequences separated by color. This complexity gives the game more of a puzzle-like feel as you backtrack and take alternate paths to activate switch sequences in the proper order.

A target appears over any switch that’s ready to be shot, preventing you from having to keep track of which number you’re ready to hit next. The numbers and colors also appear on your teleportation map so you can plan your route more effectively.

You have a limited supply of teleportation pads, so you’ll need to use them wisely. However, you are free to teleport back to a dropped pad as many times as you like. The screen flashes for a moment when you reach a junction where a pod should be deployed, which helps you to avoid wasting them.

Between levels, you will be treated to interstitial screens showing artwork and sometimes explaining a bit of the story. There’s also a computer interface that allows you to uncover more story elements as you move forward, offering a bit of insight into the game’s universe and what’s going on, usually with a somewhat humorous bent. There’s a bit of humor in-game as well when it comes to the story and in-game achievement system. Names of levels and bonuses are often given the names of physicists, sci-fi writers and directors, and fictional characters, such as the numerous Farscape-named levels in the main quest.

There are also loads of bonus challenges, which can be accessed by finding hidden yellow pods in some of the levels. Most of the bonus levels are VR-style challenges with goals such as completing levels quickly without touching the sides. However, there are a couple of full-on minigames included here as well, including a version of Snake, a 7-level version of the developer’s previous game, Coconut Dodge, and a 10-level Thrust-inspired game where the player must fight gravity using a limited fuel supply to drop down into subterranean areas, destroy turrets, rescue survivor pods, and escape (sadly, the pendulum gameplay from Thrust is not present here).

In addition to outright bonus levels, there are a few extras to be found on the computer interface, like a version of Minesweeper, the ability to change your desktop theme, and a working calculator that can also be used to input cheat codes. The player can also open up concept art, enemy stats, and view the in-game achievement system.

Velocity Ultra
Velocity Ultra represents a significant graphical update over its predecessor. Velocity was originally released as a Playstation Mini title (PSP/PS3) with some nice, yet basic sprite art, presented in standard definition. The Ultra version (Vita/PS3/PC) features HD artwork that falls more in line with the anime-style cutscenes. In addition to the increased resolution, the game features some new graphical effects, such as panels breaking off of space station walls as you fly through the environment, more detailed cutscene art, and enhanced lighting effects.

In addition, one significant change has been made to the controls. In the original game, you were able to toss bombs in whichever direction your ship was moving, requiring a bit of quick sticking on the part of the player to line up shots to the left, right, and behind while maneuvering in tight quarters. The new control scheme allows the player to toss bombs in all 4 directions independently of movement, making bomb-based puzzle sequences somewhat easier, and slightly increasing the overall pace.

Velocity was developed by a company known as FuturLab, which was founded in 2003 by James Marsden who originally worked in Flash game development and web development before getting into standalone game development in 2009.

Velocity Ultra was developed by the London-based Curve Studios, working closely with the original developers to deliver an enhanced experience. Curve Studios was founded in 2005, and has worked on such titles as the Buzz! series, the Fluidity games, Explodemon, and the Stealth Bastard games. The studio also focuses on working with other independent developers to port and publish their games on Sony’s platforms, including The Swapper from Facepalm Games, Thomas Was Alone by Mike Bithell, Lone Survivor from Superflat Games, and Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga.

In 2010, FutureLab released Coconut Dodge as a PS3 and PSP Mini, and the game was ported to iOS devices in the following year. Coconut Dodge stars a crab who runs back and forth on the lower part of the screen dodging falling coconuts while collecting coins, diamonds, and other valuables, and keeping bouncing beach balls in the air for bonus points. 7 of the game’s “maze” portions were recreated as an unlockable minigame within Velocity, using the game’s space theme rather than that of a crab on a beach.