Velocity 2X review: hybrid heaven

Velocity 2x goes way beyond the safe sequel

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform PS Vita, PS4
Publisher N/A
Developer Futurlab
Release Date Sep 2, 2014

Velocity 2X is precise, punishing and peerless. It's a standout example of how to make a great sequel.

The Velocity games are hard to pin down. Glancing at gameplay footage, you might think they are top-down racers, bullet-hell shooters or space exploration games. You'd be right on all counts. They blend different gameplay mechanics together with wrench-tight controls for a unique experience. The original installment, Velocity, was re-released on Vita as Velocity Ultra (improving graphics and adding some functionality), but the series' first true sequel is Velocity 2X.

Video game sequels have been known to play it safe. A few new guns here, a few new maps there, call it a day. Velocity 2X very easily could have gone down this road, but it doesn't. It takes a big risk and the end result is a fabulously tight, eternally replayable arcade game that manages to add in a new genre to an already-potent mix without ruining the recipe.

Velocity 2X remains true to many of the roots of the franchise. It's still a strictly 2D game where you control a ship tasked with completing various objectives as you progress through a series of constantly scrolling maps. Unlike most scrolling shooters, though, the gunplay in Velocity 2X actually takes a back seat to traversal and exploration, as you attempt to rescue survivors and collect shards while making it to the end of a stage under the target time.

The in-ship gameplay of 2X is almost identical to what was seen in Velocity Ultra. You have access to teleporters, bombs and lasers, each of which is crucial at specific times. Some minor tweaks have been made to these systems (sure to only be noticed by obsessive Ultra veterans), but all of the changes are for the better, increasing playability while reducing the trial and error that the first game required.

velocity 2x ice caves screen

Had the developers stopped there, simply adding 50 more levels of increasingly difficult challenges, I'm sure there would have been an audience. Instead, they added an entirely new style of play, 2D platforming, which is nearly as prevalent as the ship gameplay.

Almost every level in Velocity 2X is sprinkled with docking stations where you'll disembark from your ship and enter an interior. These sequences shift the camera from top-down to side-scrolling, putting you in control of Kai, the game's heroine. Kai has her own selection of tech, from a 360-degree hand laser to a blaster rifle to a short-range teleporter. It's an entirely different style of play.

velocity 2x tall screen

And yet, the platforming sequences don't feel tacked on. They don't feel awkward. They fit, better than I ever would have expected. The fluidity of the platforming, the speed at which Kai can jump and flash through interiors, matches the same insane pace as the ship gameplay, while also maintaining its tight controls. It's an impressive feat that made me look forward to these sequences much more than I thought I would.

That said, there is one on-foot element, involving a thrown teleportation device, whose controls feel a bit squiffy. Thankfully, the device is used infrequently and only seems slightly awkward when compared to the rest of the game's spot-on controls. And apart from this outlier, all of the ship-based skills you learn translate directly into the on-foot sections. The button to boost in your ship is the same button to sprint when on-foot, and so on and so forth. It's like learning a new language but, luckily, you already know Latin.

velocity 2x review screen wide 2

Presentationally, Velocity 2X is a definite step above its predecessor. While it's not the sort of game that would wow your friends with the power of the PS4, it is stylistically beautiful and far more varied than Ultra was. Rather than the same metallic sci-fi environments of Ultra, Velocity 2X introduces a handful of themed environments, from ice planets to waterfall-strewn utopias. These visuals are backed with an uptempo electronic score that fits the game perfectly and never seems to get redundant, even after multiple playthroughs of the same level. And all of this runs at a silky 60 frames per second, even on Vita.

The stable frame rate is crucial, as precision is a big part of Velocity 2X. The skill level required for simply finishing the game is actually a lot lower than Ultra, but perfectionists looking for 100% completion have a real job ahead of them. The frame rate and tight controls mean that failure always feels like it was the fault of the player, never the game, which is good because you'll be failing a lot. Each of the game's 50 main levels have challenging requirements for a perfect grade, and new features like a quick restart (by tapping both triggers at once) were clearly designed with trophy hunters in mind.

Wrap Up:

Velocity 2x goes way beyond the safe sequel

Velocity 2X could have taken the easy route, sticking with proven mechanics for a predictable sequel. Instead, it makes a big bet, adding on-foot gameplay to already-sharp ship gameplay and the entire game is so much stronger for it. Sequels are often used as a safe way to fund future products and rarely are core tenets of a series monkeyed with for fear of losing the original audience. 2X walks that tightrope and makes it to the other side, backed by thunderous applause.

Velocity 2X was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by FuturLab. You can find additional information on Polygon's ethics policy here.

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