The triumphant march of the twin-stick shooter continues with Super Stardust HD. Stardust adds a welcome new wrinkle to the genre's standard arena-style levels, while playing like a cross between Asteroids and Geometry Wars. As an added bonus, it's not only one of the prettiest games on the PS3, but the most fun as well.
Super Stardust HD is set high above a planet's surface. Asteroids rain down into orbit, and shooting them causes them to fracture into smaller and smaller chunks. Unlike the classic Asteroids arcade game, the debris doesn't split into two so much as fragment, and they come in sizes ranging from tiny to "should have it's own gravity well." You can even have giant hollowed-out husks slowly tumbling over the horizon. The entire spherical planetary orbit is the play area, so quick trip over guns blazing ensures one less scene of cosmic beauty is threatening the universe.
Super Stardust HD is the best twin-stick shooter since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, and a must-play for anyone who's ever enjoyed arcade action.
You'll need to choose the right gun for the job though, because asteroids come in three versions. The spread gun is strong for standard rocks, the blue fast-and-straight shot is effective against icy blue detritus, and the immensely fun laser whip melts down gold asteroids in short order. These guns don't start off all that useful. Asteroids harbor neon-green power-up rocks inside, and cracking them open lets loose a random drop. It's usually just points, value determined by the survival score multiplier, but there are also bombs, rare extra lives, shields, and the always-welcomed gun enhancements. A gun power-up will cycle through the three types, adding in the usual decision to either grab it immediately or wait for it to cycle through to a specific weapon.
There are five planets to shoot through with a boss ship at the end of each, and every planet divided into five stages. Enemies pop up now and then to give some variety to the constant asteroid barrage, and at the end of each stage an enemy swarm will arrive. Clear them out and Stardust tallies up the bonus points, applies the score multiplier, and sets you right back into orbit with any leftover asteroids or powerups still floating around. The biggest point bonus is for time, and it's here Stardust runs into a small problem. Waves of asteroids and enemies are cued to arrive as the old ones are cleared out, but there's no way to know when that's going to be, or how many there are to shoot through. The final enemy wave happens quickly on some stages or takes several minutes on others, but without any way to judge progress it always feels arbitrary.
It's hardly a major issue when the sheer volume of deadly crap flying around means there are few dull moments. Hundreds of objects, from swarms of tiny crystal enemies to giant fragmenting asteroids, can fill the screen without a hint of slowdown. Multiple game modes offer everything from a marathon play session to a quick blast, and the online leaderboard competition is fierce. Super Stardust HD is the best twin-stick shooter since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, and a must-play for anyone who's ever enjoyed arcade action.