At first glance, the PSN mini Velocity appears to be a simplistic affair. Its 16-bit graphics and top-down shoot-'em-up action hark back to the golden age of parallax scrolling, square controllers, and getting told off by your mum for spending too much time in front of "that goggle box." And yet, underneath that retro exterior lies a game with a surprising amount of depth. Velocity's intricately designed, mazelike levels and clever gameplay mechanics add a modern twist to a classic formula that not only entertains, but does so with a gusto and intelligence that belies the game's modest price.
It's not immediately obvious where that intelligence comes from. Early levels have you flying your ship from the bottom to the top of the screen in wide-open levels, blowing up a few glass pods and rescuing the scientists trapped within. There's some nonsense or other about why you're rescuing them, which is presented to you before certain missions, but it's largely irrelevant, particularly as your only source of narrative is a single comic-book-style frame.
Things pick up a little when enemies are introduced. The incessant swirling of alien ships means you've got to keep on your toes and dodge frequently, even if they're not firing back yet. It would be easy to give up Velocity after just a few levels of repeated pod smashing and alien dodging, but stick with it, and you're in for a real treat. Mechanics that seemed otherwise superfluous given the simplicity of the levels suddenly spring to life thanks to some clever changes in design.
The once wide-open bulkheads of space stations become constrained, mazelike tunnels woven throughout the metal structures, where levels with a strict time limit force you to navigate them quickly. Your ship's boost ability lets you zip around them swiftly, but do so with caution--if your ship is scrolled off the bottom of the screen, it's game over. Indestructible barriers that block your path make things trickier still, so your ship's teleporting ability is especially handy. Holding down square brings up a reticle that lets you select exactly where to teleport to, and when it's combined with boosting, you can blast through levels in minutes in a satisfying display of navigational skill.
Eventually, enemies fire back, creating streams of bullets that--while not reaching the same levels of bullet hell as Cave's games--force you to weave and dodge maniacally, creating a fantastic tension as your ship scrolls ever closer to the bottom of the screen. Enemies that appear to the sides of your ship force you to use bombs, which you aim using the D-pad or analogue stick. While you have an unlimited supply of bombs, they don't fire rapidly; each one you launch must be expertly timed and aimed to cause maximum damage.
In the latter half of the game you're given multiple paths to navigate, which makes your ability to drop waypoints and teleport back to them especially useful. Often you have to destroy numbered security switches scattered throughout those paths to open up areas protected by force fields, but only in their numbered order. It's all too easy to see a coloured switch and immediately blow it up, only to reset all the other switches and have to start over. It can be frustrating, particularly when you're juggling waypoints, boosting, teleporting, navigating, and dodging enemy bullets, but it's a satisfying challenge, one that comes at you in bite-sized chunks that are perfect for the morning commute.
If there's one downside to Velocity it's that levels don't differ much visually. The same dull gray textures are repeated ad infinitum to build up each level, and there are only a few types of enemy ships to blow up--any further differentiation comes from their size. Thankfully, the music fares much better. Electro beats with an 8-bit chiptune edge are blasted out thick and fast, while catchy melodies mean the tunes are stuck in your head long after you've finished playing the game.
Fifty levels give you plenty to get through, plus hidden bonus levels provide a nice incentive to go back and play through them again. You can earn gold, silver, or bronze medals for each level too, depending on the time it takes you to complete it or how many survivors you rescue. But without any online leaderboards to speak of, you're merely competing against yourself, which is far less fun than scoring an epic time and rubbing it in your friends' faces. Still, Velocity is for the most part a fun and inventive little shooter that offers lots of content for very little outlay.'