Here's something you never thought someone would be able to say in 2007: The dual-joystick shooter market is, perhaps, getting a little oversaturated. The arcade-style games, initially popularized in arcades by Robotron: 2084, saw a rebirth with the release of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on the Xbox 360. And we've been getting a mix of classic emulated releases, as well as new games, ever since. Housemarque's Super Stardust HD marks the third such game to hit the PlayStation 3, and it's also the best. But if you've been trying to keep up with this genre, there's a good chance that you might already be sort of tired of it.
Super Stardust HD puts you at the controls of a tiny spaceship that flutters around a grid, which protects a planet from asteroid attacks. Big space rocks are constantly slamming into that grid and sticking to it, so it's up to you to fly around the grid to blast the rocks apart. Think of it as Blast Factor in space, instead of in a petri dish, or perhaps Asteroids on a sphere with all-directional fire. The catch is that you have three different weapon types available at all times, and each one is somewhat more efficient at dealing with specific types of rocks. For example, your gold melter destroys gold rocks faster than your ice weapon. As you blow up rocks, you'll get down to their cores, which glow green and release power-ups when destroyed. You can power up each of your three weapons, as well as collect extra lives, a shield, and extra bombs. Bombs let you clear a radius around your ship when things get too hectic. You can also cut through rocks and other smaller enemies using a boost attack. The boost attack is probably the most dramatic change to what would otherwise be a very cookie-cutter game, though the multiple weapons at your disposal are also a nice touch.
There are multiple planets to unlock and defend, with each planet broken up into five phases of increasing difficulty that culminates in a boss fight. You can opt to play the game one planet at a time or play in an arcade mode that lets you progress from one planet to the next. There's also a co-operative mode for two players. Both players play on the same screen, and if one ship tries to fly too far away, the other gets dragged along as the planet scrolls. Also, sticking close to your partner gives both of you a weapons boost. Co-op play hasn't been a feature of too many of these new wave Robotron clones, so it's a cool addition in Super Stardust HD, even though you can't take that co-op online.
While the planets you're flying over aren't terribly interesting, the game's rocks and explosions are the visual highpoints. The rocks blast apart into interesting crooked shapes, and the explosions are fairly flashy. The game will do 1080p if you have a capable set, and the frame rate stays solid. The soundtrack has an appropriately sci-fi adventure tone to it as well, which helps set the mood a bit.
How likely you are to enjoy Super Stardust HD is directly proportional to how many other games like this you've played over the last year or so. If you're burned out on Blast Factor and want something new, Super Stardust HD's $7.99 price tag feels just about right.