Level 26 of Velocity 2X has taken over my day. I wish I could just let go and move on with my life, but I am literally ONE SECOND away from a gold Perfect medal. A SECOND. I have been chasing that second for about an hour, now.
A game has to be special to make me chase high scores, and Velocity 2X is special. It's creative, ambitious and so demanding on the mind and reflexes that it occasionally makes my brain feel as if it's been wrung out. It's not that it's enormously difficult, but it's so fast, and its varied systems are constantly pulling your mind in different directions.
The key to Velocity 2X's brilliance is that it flows so confidently between being a platformer, a super-fast shmup and a puzzler, even within the space of the same level. On foot, as surprisingly likeable space-soldier Kai Tana, you zip left and right through Metroid-style mazes of switches, enemies and glowing pink crystals that trail a course across the level, blasting things with her weaponised arm. In the ship, you speed through vertical levels with more aliens to blow up and little survivor capsules to collect. Both Kai and the ship can warp short distances, passing through walls and dodging bullets, and because the controls are consistent between the two, there's no awkward period of adjustment when stepping off the ship. It's impressively fluid.
Futurlab has exchanged the retro-appeal of the original Velocity's sprite graphics and cascading chiptunes for a beautifully slick, stylish and very modern art style, all bold, thick lines of colour and bright explosions. The music makes you feel like you're at a rave on a space station and someone's spiked your drink, alternating between pumping high-energy space-techno and vaguely menacing ambient bleeps and beats.
Velocity 2X introduces a completely new idea every ten levels or so, and takes a long time to unfurl its full complexity. Early missions are a minute or few long, simply laid-out, speedy and satisfying. They just need you to fly and run and shoot. By around level 40 they are gigantic branching complexes that require you to drop warp pods all over the place, systematically disable complex security systems and solve spatial puzzles – but you still have to do it at speed. I'm personally drawn to the Critical Urgency flavour of mission, which puts the emphasis on being quick and accurate; they get me into a pleasant flow-state, where the more complex levels need more active thought and rudely yank my mind out of that trance.
Some of these ideas don't work as well as others, but there's nothing here that doesn't work at all. Throwing your teleporter and bouncing it off walls to negotiate impassable places in the platforming sections is fiddly and sometimes irritating, but it also makes for some great puzzles, one of which genuinely stumped me for a long time. There are guard aliens that you have to teleport through before you can shoot them in the back, which is fun until they start absorbing oodles of damage. There are some levels in Velocity 2X that you could happily play 20 times in a row going for a medal, and some that you never want to see again once you're through with them. Happily, the ratio is very much in favour of the former.
After its first completion, every Velocity 2X level becomes a teeth-grinding speed and high-score challenge: you have to shoot every enemy, collect every gem and survivor and finish within a tight time limit to get a Perfect medal. Velocity 2X isn't really interested in punishing you for dying; dying just slows you down, keeping your further from that golden accolade. Completing all 50 levels is challenging but not overly taxing; Perfecting them all is a work of superhuman skill.
After about three straight hours yesterday my fingers just completely forgot what to do; I think that much Velocity is more than the brain is designed to take. But man, does it make you feel cool when you get it right, like when you're jumping and warping in mid-air to zip through walls or sliding down an incline with the arm-cannon blazing. That last thing is a trick that the game particularly likes to pull: it positions enemies so that you can blow-em up as you skid down a slope. It still feels cool the hundredth time.
Velocity 2X is eminently replayable, and because it's cross-buy and you can take it with you on Vita, it's a little too easy for it to become an obsession. (I played the game through on PS4, but spent an hour or so on Vita too, and it's as intuitive on both). Its creativity and ambition are seriously impressive, and it's one of the most compelling high-score games I've ever played. There were moments, when I was deep in the zone on a complex level and everything was going perfectly, when I briefly forgot the rest of the world existed. That, there, is the mark of something great.