There were two games early on in the start of downloadable games that proved to me that this format was going to work. The funny thing is, both games were very similar. One was Geometry Wars on Xbox Live and the other was Super Stardust HD (SSHD )on the PSN.
SSHD is a twin stick shooter. If you aren’t familiar with the genre, it’s basically that you control the movement of your ship with one stick and you shoot in whatever direction you point with the other stick. It’s a very simple design that creates this symbiotic relationship between both of your thumbs, your eyes and your brain. There is no tripping over this control scheme. There is no fumbling for the right button to push. If you want to move left, you move the stick left. If you need to shoot right while moving left, you move that stick right. It’s brilliant, simple, elegant… perfect.
In SSHD you are the pilot of this little ship on a 2d grid that surrounds a planet. I say it’s 2d, because you don’t move in or out, you can only circle the planet along the grid. But it is 3d in that you can completely circle the planet. Confused? Yeah, it’s hard to explain. But download the demo and you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
So you are piloting your ship and some asteroids fall onto the playable grid. You move your ship over, shoot them, collect power ups from them, marvel at how beautiful they look when they blow up, and you move on. As the game progresses it will throw more and more things at you, like a good shooter should. By the time you reach the later levels you will be clearing asteroids, avoiding flying baddies, dodging fire from stationary cannons, and you will do it all without ever tripping over the controls. I can not hammer this point enough. It’s the control scheme that makes the whole game work, and with it they are able to throw things at you that you think “there is no way in hell I am going to survive that” and somehow your two little thumbs do it. It brings a great amount of exhilaration to this wonderful game.
The game supports custom soundtracks, has a great trophy list that is not just a list of stuff to get you through the game. There are some fairly interesting trophies that ask you to play the game exactly like you aren’t supposed to, and to great effect. Like there is a trophy to survive without shooting for something like a minute. Now, without that trophy, I would have never ever attempted to play the game like this, but in going for this trophy I had a ton of fun. Creative trophies like this should be copied by all game companies. Anything that can get you to play the game differently, and enjoy it in a new way, is a good, good thing.
SSHD has had a couple expansion packs and major patches along the way. It started as a very good game and at this point is a very, very, very good and complete game. They patched in the aforementioned trophy and custom soundtrack support. Through expansions they added new modes, multiplayer modes and a host of other additions. The game also has fully functioning online leaderboards for each mode, and you can filter them to just compare scores among your friends. This was a particular addiction of mine as any time I had a friend beat my top score in arcade mode I would go back and try over and over and until I was back on top. Petty? Yes. But fun as hell.
You really just can’t go wrong with this game. The graphics are amazing for what it is, the sound is great, the action is as hectic as you will find in any game on any platform. Only if you just truly hate shooters would I miss this.
Essentially Super Stardust HD and Geo Wars are the same thing. One copied off the other. Even the achievements mirror the trophies. Mort tells me that SSHD is the copy cat game. Not unlike the Rockband and Guitar Hero World Tour situation.
In my opinion this game is way better than Geometry Wars. In graphics, mechanics, technique and depth, SSHD wins the war. Having not played Geometry Wars 2 I cannot fairly compare SSHD to this.
Where Geometry Wars leaves you feeling overwhelmed, SSHD gives you hope that you can fight on. There is something to be said about taking the game idea to another level, even if it is just a copy cat game. Pick up Super Stardust, it’s worth the money.