Probably the PlayStation Vita’s last ever release, Ultra Mission isn’t quite the explosive ending to the Sony handheld many would have hoped for. The Finger Guns Review.
“It has been an awesome decade with our beloved handheld. We are so grateful to have been a part of its history. Thank you, PS Vita! And thank you as well, player!“
Those who unlock the Platinum trophy for Ultra Mission, named “A Word of Thanks”, are greeted by the above message in its description. It’s touching, but also poignant. I imagine there was quite a lot of jostling for position in order to be the very last PlayStation Vita game to ever release. That distinct honour belongs to Ultra Mission, releasing on July 29th, 2021, somehow launching 9 days after the final batch of games was supposedly released for the PlayStation handheld.
Ever since Sony shifted their focus away from the PSVita, the beloved handheld has been almost exclusively supported by indie developers. It’s appropriate then that the last game should come from an indie dev, Gumbo Machine. The developer has only ever launched 2 games and they are both for the PSVita. Unfortunately, much like the last few waves of games to release on the-little-console-that-could, Ultra Mission isn’t quite the happy ending to the console many would have hoped for.
Your mission, should you even understand it…
Ultra Mission is one of those games that has more story in the store description than in the action game. According to the PlayStation store, this game takes place in the year 2081, in a place called Otto Labs, where “you must traverse the labyrinthine maze […] littered with powerful automatons and questionable experiments“. While there is a second long frame that shows the date at the start of the game, you won’t find any other evidence of a story here.
Not that Ultra Mission needs a story, per se. It’s an arcade game inspired by the titles that didn’t need one. Made up of 20 levels, the aim of the game is to make it from the left side of the single frame room to the exit door on the right. Standing between the protagonist (that looks like a Chibi version of Doom Eternal‘s Doomguy) is an army of hostiles that’ll vanquish the hero with just a touch or a single shot of their weapons. Oh course, the hero character can shoot back to carve his way through the level.
The enemies of the game aren’t the only thing that’ll defeat the protagonist either. In each of the game’s 20 levels is a maze of walls that strobe red and blue. These are lethal to the hero with just a touch and will cost you an extra life.
Avoiding the enemies, patrolling the maze with an irregularity to their movement and firing, while attempting not to touch the walls is a tad tricky in some levels. The tight corridors in some of the mazes are made even more challenging as weapon fire forces you to get close to the walls.
A screeching swan song
Unfortunately, most of the challenge in Ultra Mission comes from the clunky controls. Like some top down shooters from the Amiga era of gaming, the hero character defaults to looking right when they’re not moving. This game isn’t a twin stick shooter. Point the right stick in a direction and that doesn’t direct your fire. It does nothing. If you want to fire down, up, left or any of the ordinal directions, you’ll have to be moving in that direction. This makes some levels far more difficult than they would be otherwise in a modern day twin stick shooter. Because of the inability to touch any of the walls, you’ve got to be really careful when returning fire.
To negate this, it’s pretty easy to just hang around behind walls until an opportunity opens up to fire back. The AI in the game feels random rather than responsive so it’s pretty easy to manipulate – except for one enemy type. There’s only 5 enemy types in the game. 4 of them are very mechanically similar, simply moving and shooting at irregular intervals. They don’t chase the protagonist and they’re easy to dispatch. The other enemy type is a bit more challenging. It flies across the level, ignores walls and homes in on the hero character. This is a risk/reward enemy too. When you destroy it, you’re awarded an extra life but it also shoots out a shower of bullets in all directions. If this enemy turns up when you’re already in a tight spot, it can make things quite tense.
That tension only really exists in the first 11 levels of Ultra Mission however. The enemy types are introduced one by one before being blended together as an ever more varied force standing in your path. That is until the 5th and final enemy type is introduced to the game. Almost identical to the player character but with a lighter shade of green on the armour, these enemies simply…explode. They pop and as they do, they shoot a trio of bullets upward. The kicker with Ultra Mission is that enemies can shoot one another. On any normal level, you’ll probably witness a few enemies walking into one another and blinking from existence. When this 5th enemy type is introduced? That simply explodes unprovoked and shoots out bullets? It takes out half of a field of enemies before you even move from your starting position.
Ultra Mission is short too. Those 20 levels will last less than an hour to complete. The game has one game play mode. There’s no leader boards, locally or online. There’s virtually no replayability to the game. It has an easy Platinum trophy for collectors out there and, as mentioned, it comes with a description that’s certainly one that PSVita trophy collectors should add to their collection.
Despite the design issues with Ultra Mission, it has some quirky charm to it. When you shoot enemies, they often spout out little sound bytes that might be enough to raise a small smile from those who enjoyed Berzerk, Frenzy, or Robotron back in the day. The music isn’t anything to write home about but similarly, it’s completely inoffensive. Visually, the game is clean and easy to read, which is the important thing about a game that’s as twitchy as this is.
In the end though, and I guess this is the end for the PSVita, it’s a shame that the last game for the handheld console isn’t something more impressive than Ultra Mission. For a console that housed such incredible experiences as Persona 4 Golden, Killzone Mercenary, Gravity Rush, and Uncharted Golden Abyss, it would have been great to see it go out with a bang. Instead, the Vita goes quietly into the night with a whisper.
Ultra Mission might be remembered as the very last game for the PSVita, but it’s not a memorable game in and of itself. A budget top down shooter that’s clunky and shallow, it’s an hour of content that’s quirky but has a number of design issues that make it a forgettable farewell to Sony’s handheld.
Ultra Mission is available now on the PSVita.
Developer: Gumbo Machine
Publisher: Gumbo Machine
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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