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Velocity 2X on Switch Holds Key to the FuturLab's Future

by Neal Ronaghan - September 20, 2018, 9:14 am PDT
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Much depends on the success of Curve and FuturLab’s upcoming hybrid shooter/platformer port on Switch.

Velocity 2X is coming to Switch today and, well, it’s important for developer FuturLab. They’ve been around for nearly a decade, working on multiple games (though Velocity 2X will be their first on Nintendo systems), but if they want to get funding for a third entry in their critically acclaimed Velocity series, it has to sell well on Switch.

FuturLab has had an upward trajectory over the years. Velocity was one of the highlights of Sony’s short-lived PS Minis line in 2012, later getting turned into the expanded full-fledged release Velocity Ultra on Vita and PlayStation 3. That success led to a deal with Sony and a launch of their next game - the sequel Velocity 2X - as a monthly PlayStation Plus game. Velocity 2X was downloaded by millions, but since it was received as a free download to so many on PlayStation 4 and Vita, it wasn’t quite seen as the success it might have been. Later ports and a physical release had outside circumstances nuke chances for good sales. Now, the Switch release is a hail mary for the game they refer to as Velocity Supernova.

“Honestly, we're letting the game speak for itself,” Director James Marsden told us. “It looks amazing, runs at a silky 60fps with full screen post processing - it uses the HD rumble and touch screen, and the Joy-Con detachment is blissfully comfortable with such a high input-intensity game. It's a perfect fit for Switch, we strongly believe it's one of the finest examples of a 2D arcade game designed for a handheld platform that also looks great on the big screen.”

Marsden’s confidence in the quality of his game is refreshing and having played it back at its initial launch on Vita, I can vouch for it. Velocity 2X is good as hell. The original Velocity is also good as hell. FuturLab made two good-as-hell games in a series and for some reason, can’t find backing for a third, hopefully equally good-as-hell game.

Marsden’s path to games started through music. He initially aspired to be a music producer, but during a time when Napster was busy leading to the cannibalization of the music industry. His pivot was to work on music for games, but limited experience made it hard to break in. So instead of waiting for his shot, he made it himself and started up FuturLab.

The idea for Velocity came from the kernel of a song Marsden was working on that, when met with programmer Robin Jubber’s off-hand comment about how they could use the engine for their first game Coconut Dodge for a shoot-’em-up, helped carve out the concept for Velocity as a “a heroic ‘80s space shoot-’em-up.” The coconuts in Coconut Dodge became asteroids in Velocity, and the rest of the idea flew out from that starting point.

“The problem was I didn't really like 'bullet-hell' shmups - I find them too one-dimensional,” Marsden said. “So pretty much every convention about the genre we threw out and replaced them with cool stuff - like teleportation.”

And that was the hook for Velocity. It was an unconventional shoot-’em-up. When I stumbled upon the game on Vita years ago, it blew me away. Like Marsden, I’ve never been one for bullet-hell shooters. Velocity was basically engineered for my tastes and it rocked.

After the success of Velocity, Sony helped fund a sequel, which was set to bring in ideas left on the cutting room floor of the first game. The big addition was the side-scrolling platformer element - something the team hoped to work into the original. With a pinch of Sonic the Hedgehog, Flashback, and Turrican 2, FuturLab added a substantial new gameplay element while also adding more personality to series star Kai in the process.

Aside from self-admitted incongruities, the concoction of shooter and platformer is wonderful. They have a similar feel with the only issue in Marsden’s eyes being the order of how shooting in the platforming builds. He told us that the build from 360-degree shooting to the rifle is a little fuzzy, but that he’s proud of how well the two modes complemented each other otherwise.

Other challenges in 2X’s unique blend are smoothed over, as the teleporting that made the original Velocity’s shoot-’em-up design so unique also comes to the side-scrolling. Collision detection with the on-foot teleportation had its struggles, but thanks to some behind-the-screen trickery, it works well.

We’ll have a review of Velocity 2X at Nintendo World Report soon, but as someone not reviewing it who played it on PS4 years ago, I highly recommend checking it out. It might just lead to FuturLab making their dream third entry. When I asked Marsden about what they’re calling “Velocity Supernova,” he was naturally cagey. “I'd just ask that fans continue to trust that all the sensibilities and attention to detail that resulted in Velocity will shape the next iteration, only with greater focus and higher production value,” he said. “I suppose I can say that it's stunning.”

Maybe just maybe, we’ll get to play that stunning game in the future. Only time (and sales) will tell.

Lastly, I asked Marsden what the protagonist of Velocity 2X would be if she was a Smash Bros. Assist Trophy. In his words: “Kai would jump in and out of various wormholes, tripping other characters over with a cheeky smile and hilarious wit. That's how she does things.”

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