After a fairly lackluster prior portable outing for Super Stardust on the PSP, Housemarque has a proper sequel to its PlayStation 3 dual-joystick shooter on the Vita with Super Stardust Delta. It offers new planets to plow through, new super weapons, and it drops the three weapons of the previous game down to two. Don't mistake that smaller number for a smaller game, though. With additional options and minigames, Delta is just as large as its PS3 counterpart, and it's a strong opener for the Vita's download-only offerings.
For the most part, this is the same game that Super Stardust HD was, though it isn't identical. The game takes place on the outer edge of a sphere, and you'll move with one stick and shoot with the other. The Vita's analog sticks are well-suited to this task, and the device's bright screen makes the hectic action easy to follow, though it's still possible to lose your ship during especially chaotic moments as the game is filled with particles and other effects that make the action look nice and flashy. Where HD had three different weapons to power up and use against three different types of targets, Delta instead uses two. The fire beam looks like a burning laser whip that juts out from your craft and snakes around the screen as you flick the right stick back and forth, letting you hose down red-colored enemies. Ice is a blue spread shot that gets a wider firing arc as you collect ice icons, and it's best suited for blue asteroids and enemies. So matching the colors results in devastation, while mismatching them does minimal damage, at best. You can swap between the two weapons by pressing the R trigger, and this feels like a good change to the three-weapon system found in past games, where you'd have to memorize the cycle order for your three weapons in order to always swap to the right gun at the right moment. This game is too fast for that.
Where HD had limited-use smart bombs that created a radius of death and gave you some breathing room, Delta has three special weapons. In addition to the default bomb, you can also launch a series of homing missiles or create a black hole that sucks asteroids and other smaller objects in. Personally, I still find the default blast to be the most effective. Each of these weapons draws from the same limited stock of special attacks, so you'll need to be conservative with them. You can also utilize a boost that both cuts through asteroids and quickly gets you out of the immediate vicinity. In the default mode, punching the boost button also triggers a quick slow-motion effect. If you like, you can opt for a "pure" option that disables the slo-mo and eliminates the two new special weapons, returning your options to those of Super Stardust HD. Also by default, the game lets you tilt the Vita around to move the camera a bit, letting you see around the horizon of the playfield. Depending on the angle you're holding the Vita at, this might be totally disruptive, so you can easily disable this, as well.
The main mode has 25 stages split across five different planets. Asteroids continually land and stick to the sphere along with various types of enemies. Harvesting asteroids gives you items to collect that give you points, improved weapons, and so on. But the eventual goal is to clear the stage of enemies. The fifth and final phase of each planet pits you against a large boss, most of which aren't too tough, as long as you're being careful. In the event that the game is too rough for you on the normal setting, there's also a casual difficulty that turns the game into something just about anyone could complete. As you get to each planet, you'll unlock minigames, many of which use the touchscreen, rear touch panel, or another Vita-specific control to give you a new task. Some of these, like one that has you using the touch and rear touch to "pinch" asteroids to death, work better than others. The game keeps leaderboards for all of these modes and options, and your friends' scores are posted right on the menu screens for easy comparison.
It would probably benefit from an additional mode or two (which, if the trophy list is to be believed, will be coming in the form of a DLC add-on), but with a $10 price tag and a terrific frame rate, Super Stardust Delta makes for a good, strong opener for the Vita's download-only catalog. If sharp-looking action is your thing, it's certainly worth your time.