What if…? Two of the most important words to the entertainment industry and words that have shaped countless books, films, TV shows and video games over the years. There have been countless people in the creative industries who have asked themselves that question about things they have been passionate about which has then inspired them to go onto create works involving characters or situations in movies and video games or, in the case of Futuridium, a new game that has its roots firmly placed in the 80s and a certain 8-bit computer.
That computer was the Commodore 64 and I’m refering to the classic 1986 game Uridium from Hewson Consultants. It was a side-scrolling affair that put you in control of a spaceship flying across the surface of a series of huge interstellar dreadnoughts. Flying from one end to the other, you were tasked to destroy as many of the surface defenses as you could, take out its shielding before landing while avoiding alien craft out for your blood. Once you’d achieved that and taken off again, the dreadnought, detonated behind you giving you a few precious moments to pick off the last remaining surface targets. Visually the game was a treat at the time with metallic-effect bas-relief graphics the like of which hadn’t been seen before and it became an instant classic that’s still loved to this day…
And this is where Futuridium comes in. MixedBagGames have taken this retro classic and turned the game completely on its head into a frantic adrenaline-fueled 3D shooter. All of the basic elements of Uridium are still there – your ship, even bigger ships for you to fly over and blow up but rather than a side-on view, it’s now a third-person perspective in ultra-smooth solid 3D. There are some changes as you’d expect – rather than surface targets to take out, there are a series of blue energy cubes that you need to destroy that are above the surface of the giant craft. Destroy all of these and a core appears (a white cube) – shoot this to destroy the dreadnought to complete the stage and move onto the next of the 50 on offer.
That all sounds simple enough but being in full 3D the cubes could be anywhere on the dreadnought – above, underneath, either side or – in the case of some levels – before or after it. And to make matters worse, your ship only has a limited amount of energy and this is depleted with every shot you fire and drops steadily as you fly and drops even faster if you use your rocket boosters. It is boosted with each cube that you destroy but you lose greater amounts each time you collide with anything or are shot down by any of the gun emplacements on the dreadnoughts. Oh, yes, on some of the levels you’re also being fired at to make things even more complicated.
At the end of each stage you’re awarded bonuses depending on how fast you complete the level, how many cubes you manage to destroy in a row building up chains (and in turn bonus multipliers), and depending on your performance you’re awarded between one and three in-game medals per level (not counting the obligatory Trophies that are on offer). In addition to that, all of the cubes that you destroy are recorded and the more of these that you take out, the better as these enable you to unlock additional features in the game. These range from additional game modes, skins for your ship, and additional continues for use.
The main game mode presents the deluxe version of the game itself (enhanced from the PC original it is based on) where you play through all 50 levels sequentially, each getting progressively tougher.Throughout later play you can unlock additional modes including the Single Level play which will allow you to replay any level you have already completed allowing you to go back and attempt to beat your previous best times or cube chains in order to earn more medals towards the total of 150 that the game has on offer. There’s also the Classic Mode which removes the medals and time challenges but instead offers a wealth of new levels to test your skills.
The Extras mode from the menu provides game instructions, credits, statistics on your gameplay and an animated intro sequence although as with any game like this, it’s not really something that you’d be particularly interested in. No disservice to MixedBag here, but I’ve never been particularly bothered about stories in shoot-em-ups unless they’ve really had anything to contribute to the game and certainly in the case of Futuridium it adds nothing to the gameplay whatsoever.
I have to be honest and say that the first time that Futuridium loaded into the Vita I wasn’t impressed. I found the control system to be cumbersome and infact obtrusive to the gameplay. While the game started off with a tutorial level before even getting into any form of menu screen teaching the basic principles of the game, I found it frustrating and feared the worst. For a 3D game, the developers had opted to set the controls to use up on the analogue stick to move the ship up and down to move the ship down to make the game feel incredibly unnatural during play. With virtually every other 3D game of this nature using “pilot” style controls, I was utterly bewildered by this decision and it was only after passing this introductory stage and getting to the game’s main menus was I able to change this in the game’s options menu. Apart from that niggling issue, I’ve had no real issue with the controls apart from the slightly slow responses from the analogue stick when navigating the menus themselves and I have found them a little odd using the analogue stick for menus (up / down) and left / right on the d-pad to change the in-game music.
That aside, once you get past the initial control frustration, you’ll find yourself drawn into a fiendishly addictive shooter. Everything that made Uridium such a classic back in ’86 is here and this is just as compelling. Whether you play the full game mode for longer gaming sessions to see how far you progress and what sort of scores you can notch up, or you want to play it in short bursts to beat your personal bests on individual levels, the fact that it offers both choices gives the game that extra appeal making it something that’s ideal for play at home when you’re looking for more intensive gaming sessions or when you’re on the move and in need of something for quick pick-up-and-play titles intended more for short bite-sized gaming.
Your heart will be racing as you fly through each of the levels, desperately trying to negotiate the narrow gaps of each of the dreadnoughts hunting out all of the cubes, while trying to remain conscious of every last ounce of energy that you’ve got remaining. You’ll agonize countless times over whether to use your boosters to reach that final cube to get a vital fuel boost from it, or hope that you’ve got enough left to get the cube and reach the core afterwards. It’s those touch and go moments that you face constantly throughout the game that make the game so addictive. If it were just a straight shooter it would still be a great game but the need to have that awareness at all times of your fuel gives it a much needed depth.
Visually the game looks fantastic. While the graphics themselves are simplistic by the standards you’d come to expect from most 3D games on the Vita with their basic filled 3D, it works extremely well and as you would expect runs at a blinding pace. While the lack of textures on any of the surfaces may be disappointing to some, this would only detract from the visuals and I feel would complicate and confuse what is an incredibly fast game. The speed at which everything flies by means that the graphics need to be as clear as possible and too much detail would prove to be detremental. There are some great visual touches added to the minimalistic look of the game with distortion effects that Jeff Minter would be proud of. They’re not too intrusive on the game though and can be turned off from within the game’s options should you find that they get in the way.
The game is played out with over an hour of music with tracks – as I mentioned before – selectable from the menu screen before play and the expected sounds effects that you’d find in a space shooter. The music varies in pace from upbeat to more sedated tracks and while not everything was to my taste personally, having the option to select the in-game backing track will be a bonus for many although a more coherent musical style throughout the game would have been more fitting.
As someone who has a passion for retro games and anything that pays homage to them, I felt instantly at home with Futuridium after my initial struggles and it’s a game that I’ve found to be incredible absorbing and addictive. It’s not quite the pure shoot-em-up that many might expect (but then again, neither was Uridium) but it manages to capture the spirit of the original wonderfully and it’s a fitting tribute to a classic game. A fantastic addition to the Vita’s growing catalogue and something that no retro-gaming enthusiast should be without.
At A Glance
- Title: Futuridium EP Deluxe
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: Yes (PS4)
- Cross Play: N / A
- Online Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 261Mb