Release Date: November 20, 2007
Asteroids, Pac-Man and Space Invaders are classics from the arcade era; they all featured simple gameplay that slowly got more difficult, and attaining the highest score was the ultimate goal. Modern games focus more on story and characters, so it seemed as if that simple gameplay was all but lost. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on the Xbox Live Arcade set out to revive the classic arcade game, and the simple, addictive and high-energy gameplay was exactly what everyone needed. It could be picked up for a few minutes of play, but it was impossibly hard to put down. To beat your own high score by just a hair was enough to keep you playing. Now with Geometry Wars: Galaxies, developer Kuju has expanded on that simple arcade game with a title that could keep gamers playing for months to come.
The controls of Geometry Wars are fairly straightforward. The left stick controls the direction in which the ship moves, the right stick controls in which direction you shoot and the shoulder button uses a bomb. The only people who might need to get used to these controls are casual gamers who can't quite grasp dual-stick movement in first-person games. While these are the traditional controls for the XBLA version, you can only do this with the Classic Controller. If you want to use the Wiimote and Nunchuk, it's mostly the same, except you have to press A and point the Wiimote at the screen in the direction you want to shoot. It's not terribly difficult, but for those used to using the Xbox 360 controller, it seems a little unnatural. However, some first time players may pick it up and find it works perfectly well for them. While I preferred the Classic Controller, the only problem I had with it was its octagonal limitations as opposed to the Xbox 360's slick, circular movement. It can be overcome, but is quite frustrating to those used to the smooth movement of the Xbox 360's controller.
Galaxies expands upon the idea of Retro Evolved and adds over 60 stages on which players can try to land high scores. Each stage is diverse, ranging from different-shaped boundaries to themed enemies. There's a whole slew of new enemies for you to plow through, and depending on how high you scored in the level, you can earn a bronze, silver or gold medal. If Retro Evolved were even remotely addictive, Galaxies will undoubtedly keep a cold, hard grip on your gaming soul.
While the coveted 10x multiplier took some skill to achieve in Retro Evolved, multipliers in Galaxies come in the form of objects called Geoms, which are left behind by defeated enemies. Each time you collect one of these Geoms, you get one multiplier with a maximum of 150x multipliers, which tends to come very fast once swarms of enemies start flying at you. Geoms also act as a currency for the game, so you can use them to unlock new galaxies and to purchase drones, another new feature.
Drones are small helpers that follow your ship. There are a total of eight drones, each with a different function. You start out with the Attack drone, which does exactly that. Other drones, like Defend, might help by shooting behind you, while Bait lures enemy ships away from you. My personal favorite was the Sweep drone, a helper that orbited around your ship, knocking out enemies who sneak up behind you or that you may have missed. Each level you complete gains you some experience, helping you level up the drone you used. At level one, a drone may not seem so useful, but as you start maxing out drones, you'll be able to discover which ones work better for certain levels. It's an interesting addition that really adds to the replay value of the title. You'll want to max out all your drones just to see how useful each one really is — and to determine your own personal favorite.
In Retro Evolved, Geometry Wars had a multiplayer experience only in the sense that you would constantly check online to see if your friends had surpassed you on the leaderboards. Now, you can prove your skill on the same screen through either co-op or competitive play. In versus mode, you compete to see who can score the highest on Retro Evolved, while in co-op, you have shared lives and bombs and collectively achieve a high score.
In addition to these two basic modes, you and a friend can cooperatively play through 10 planets in Galaxies mode. This is especially fun because it offers the variety of the single-player mode, but you don't have to go through it alone. The only problem with all of these multiplayer modes is differentiating between the two ships. Countless times, I would accidentally be looking at my friend's ship only to find that I had gotten killed in the process. It definitely takes getting used to seeing two ships on the same screen, but it's boatloads of addictive fun once you adapt to it.
This game will not blow you away in a Halo-esque fashion. Know this right now. Think of it more as Asteroids for a new generation. It's hip in a trance-inducing sort of way, with neon colors and explosions filling the screen, and techno beats streaming to your eardrums. There are a couple of more tunes here than on the original energetic Retro Evolved theme, but it's all music to keep you pumped for the swarms of enemies you need to destroy.
While Galaxies is addictive in its own right, wanting to kill endless hordes of shapes and leveling up your drones, leaderboards are the icing on the cake – or the cherry on top, depending on how you look at it. Sure you may earn a gold medal in a certain level – or all levels, for that matter – but it doesn't stop there. You can keep playing to try and earn the top spot in that level. There is a leaderboard for each level (co-op included), for overall Galaxies scores, and for Retro Evolved. If you want to be top dog, Galaxies will keep you busy for quite some time.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is truly the next step for this humble arcade throwback. You still have the energetic spirit of Geometry Wars with a variety of levels, added drones and a multiplayer mode. For those who enjoyed the XBLA classic, this is definitely worth checking out, and for the Nintendo-specific crowd that missed out on the addictive gameplay the first time around, this is a must-play game on the Wii and an experience both the casual and hardcore gamers can love.
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