This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.

Velocity Ultra One tiny ship's journey through hyperspace
Shoot-'em-ups often cater to a hardcore niche, so it's encouraging to see developer FuturLab take an alternate approach to the genre with its recent PlayStation Vita release Velocity Ultra. The finished product effectively blends its core shoot-'em-up mechanics with puzzle elements, resulting in a novel experience.

Velocity Ultra resembles a typical vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up on its surface. Players blast enemy ships on the way through each timed level, rescuing survivors in order to boost scores and post-stage rankings. The timer gives the game a frantic pace, but it's never so strict as to make gameplay frustrating. If you don't care about your rank on the leaderboards, you can casually stroll through the majority of the game's levels with more than enough time left over.

Giving the player control over pacing is a brilliant move, and Velocity Ultra encourages new strategies as its challenges ramp up in ferocity. Each level scrolls at a leisurely pace by default, but if you're the competitive (or over-caffeinated) type, you can hammer on the Vita's right shoulder button to engage hyperspeed and scream through every level as quickly as possible. It's a risky decision, but it pays off in the form of post-level accolades and unlockable trophies. Velocity Ultra's teleportation mechanics define the experience, allowing players to zoom across the screen in an instant using either the analog stick or touchscreen input. Teleportation enables players to skip past walls, enemies, and otherwise deadly obstacles, and it's often an integral part of the level design. It's a little difficult to master at first, but once you get the hang of it, chaining multiple teleports together as you dodge enemy fire proves quite satisfying.

Velocity Ultra One tiny ship's journey through hyperspace
In later levels, you're equipped with a limited number of teleportation beacons that your ship can use to return to earlier points within each level. There normally wouldn't be much need for backtracking in a scrolling shooter, but teleportation pods prove essential in Velocity Ultra's maze-like stages, which often hide survivors across forked paths and behind gates that can only be unlocked by destroying numbered locks.

The lock mechanic gives the game a unique appeal, since it basically turns Velocity Ultra into a scrolling puzzler. Locks must be destroyed in sequence, and players will often need to teleport back and forth throughout each level in order to discover the next-numbered lock. A detailed in-game map helps with exploration and keeps the game's pacing consistent despite the frequent backtracking.

Velocity Ultra One tiny ship's journey through hyperspace
Though it includes several labyrinthine stages, Velocity Ultra has no shortage of straightforward action. Some levels pit the player against overwhelming enemy swarms, while others have a strict time limit, forcing pilots to forego strategy in favor of a quick escape. There's a great amount of variety to Velocity Ultra's challenges, and the equal distribution of puzzle-focused and action-oriented levels ensures that the 50-stage campaign never becomes boring or redundant.

Velocity Ultra will have particular value for shoot-'em-up enthusiasts who want something different from the genre, and it offers great fun even for casual fans. It's a huge improvement over the previously released PS minis version, and it's yet another unconventional but surprisingly enjoyable success in the Vita's catalog.
This review is based on a PSN download of Velocity Ultra, provided by Sony.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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