Review: Futuridium Extended Play Deluxe (PS Vita)

Review-Futuridium-Extended-Play-DeluxeThe PS Vita is quickly becoming the platform of choice for indie developers - I certainly can’t recall another mainstream system being so well supported by small developers with modest backing. The Vita hardware itself is probably a main reason; it is a powerful system and - so I’m told - a fairly painless machine to develop for. This is no doubt helped by Sony’s embracing of the indie game and the ease of distribution via the PlayStation Network. The latest offering in this ever-growing marketplace is Mixed Bag Games’ retro-themed shootery-puzzley chain-score-attack em up Futuridium Extended Play Deluxe - an homage to the classic C64 space shooter, Uridium.

Futuridium EP Deluxe started life as a PC and Mac shooter released in 2013, but this PS Vita/PS4 redux features more levels, more music, and improved visuals. Sadly, there is no cross save functionality between the two formats as yet, but this is a minor blemish on Mixed Bag’s otherwise fantastic console debut. The story is that you play a star-fighter pilot about to go into battle with an enemy fleet, but moments before the lasers start lighting up the ether, you’re swallowed up by a rift in the space-time continuum and find yourself trapped in an inter-dimensional loop fighting an endless (well, 50 levels’ worth) of gigantic space dreadnoughts. In order to take these hulking ships down, you have to fly back and forwards over their surfaces, through tunnels and over gun emplacements locating and shooting glowing power cubes. Once you’ve got them all, a ‘core’ cube is revealed somewhere in the stage and once it is destroyed, you move on to the next stage…and repeat the process again.

The whole ‘Uridium’ vibe comes from the u-turn mechanic where you are encouraged to instantly flip your trajectory 180 degrees to find more power cubes hidden in nooks and crannies not immediately apparent; making multiple passes over the dreadnought, and avoiding incoming missiles and other projectiles fired at your ship by the turrets littering the stage. This ‘u-turn’ feature is pretty important as the dreadnoughts themselves are finite in scope, so you will eventually reach the aft section and need to spin around to make another pass in your quest to get those elusive and craftily placed power cubes. You will be hampered in your mission by various gun emplacements and missile turrets, but you will also be expected to evade massive spinning geometric shapes and other space oddities in the form of pulsing ‘bubbles’ and floating debris.

This all sounds fairly standard until you realise that the timer, your speed boost and your energy bar are all in fact the same thing - as soon as the stage starts, the bar starts to erode - when it gets to zero, you’re dead. However, in a similar fashion to the speed boost bar in F-Zero, it also acts as your boost here too, and if you think you won’t need to use the speed boost you’re sorely mistaken. In some cases, the stages involve multiple dreadnoughts that must be scoured for power cubes, and pootling along at the standard pace will not get you very far before the bar has reached zero - this is resource management at it’s very finest. You may only have one power cube left to find, but it may be right at the other end of the stage - literally miles away in relative terms. Getting back to that cube, destroying it and then finding the power core while your energy bar is flashing red can lead to some frantic moments. As with a lot of titles of this style, the real aim of the game is to rack up massive scores and this is done by either completing stages in the quickest time possible (which will involve memorising the location of all the cubes and some seriously impressive reaction speeds), or destroying enemies and power cubes in quick succession to create score chains.

Review-Futuridium-Extended-Play-Deluxe-Screenshot-1

In some ways, this mechanic is very similar to the one employed in Llamasoft’s TxK, and the inclusion of online leaderboards will help you to discover how well (or in my case, how poorly) you rank against other players around the world. I mentioned reflexes earlier, and Futuridium is a game that will require lots of reactionary flicks of the analogue sticks and constant use of the u-turn and boost in order for you to be successful in your quest to unlock subsequent stages and rack up high scores. And this is in part down to the fact that this game is hard. Very hard in places. The old cliche ‘easy to pick up, difficult to master’ could have been penned for Futuridium - the first few levels ease you in and allow you to find your feet with the controls and the aim of the game…and then it just cuts the guide rope and you’re on your own.

The music (which is an incredible mix of techno and dance) ramps up, the enemies slowly increase in number and the geometry of the stages starts to get very surreal, very quickly. The stages are split into ‘zones’ of 10, and you need to get to each 10th ‘checkpoint’ stage in order to unlock the subsequent zone. If you fail at stage 8 of a zone, you restart back at the first stage. This can be very frustrating at times but it’s hard to hate Futuridium for this, as it just means you get to try to improve your previous scores on the stages. Aesthetically, the game impresses with it’s flat shaded polygons and retro-themed menu text. I asked Mixed Bag if they were familiar with the Mega CD game Silpheed, and they said that they’d looked to that exact game, as well as Star Fox for inspiration when designing the graphics. Another game Futuridium reminds me of is Zero 5 on the Atari Jaguar - the flat shaded polygons and flashes of neon really work well together to create an eye-catching visual style.

This style of game really requires a good soundtrack to supplement the visual aspect…and Futuridium really delivers in this area too. From the opening screen to the final laser blast, the aural experience here is straight out of the top drawer. The score is almost filmic in scope, opening quietly and sparkling with promise, before kicking off as the action starts to ramp up. It really fits the on-screen action and enhances the whole experience.

Futuridium EP Deluxe (Trailer)

Conclusion

You may be reading this and wondering if I was paid off by Mixed Bag games to gush endlessly about Futuridium to enhance sales, but I’m really just being honest when I say that this is one of the best games on the Vita. The controls are tight (just make sure you ‘invert’ the flight X axis), the music is impeccable and the (HD, 60 fps) retro-visuals are effortlessly cool. The thing that really shines though, is the gameplay. The game is fast, frenetic and devilishly difficult at times, but Futuridium has that ‘one more go’ factor in spades, and for a handheld game of this style, that is key. With TxK, Velocity 2X and now Futuridium EP Deluxe, the Vita is really starting to cement itself as a powerhouse format when it comes to incredible shooters.


Last Updated ( 18 October 2014 )  

Tom Charnock

A true connoisseur of failed and obscure console hardware, if Tom isn't extolling the virtues of the Jaguar CD's texture smoothing abilities or the Dreamcast's vast array of useless peripherals he's usually on Twitter asking where all the Super A'Can games are.

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Comments 

+1 (Link to this comment) gunstarhero 2014-10-18 13:47
Nice one Tom - it really does look lovely, I'm going to check it out over the weekend :)
(Link to this comment) Tomleecee 2014-10-18 15:01
Thanks Gunstar - it's a great game. The PS4 version is stunning too - well worth checking out!
(Link to this comment) DemonicNinja 2014-10-18 19:30
I'm gonna pick this up too!
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