Release Date: November 27, 2007
My time with Worthplaying has yet to drive me to a long-term drug addiction, but when it does, I imagine the experience will be a lot like playing Geometry Wars: Galaxies for the NDS: a constant blur of colors, repetitive catchy dance tracks and being so addicted that I can't go two minutes without getting my next fix.
The title Geometry Wars sounds more like a violent math lesson than fast-paced or addictive gameplay. Essentially, this game is Asteroids, if it had spent all day at the gym to substantially beef up. You control a spaceship represented by a shape; you have to shoot other brightly colored shapes and collect yellow shapes from them after they've been destroyed. That constitutes the entire plot narrative of the game, as you are essentially told to get on with it, and rightly so. You have to keep firing to rack up ridiculous scores with the help of multipliers (the yellow collectable shapes) against an almost ludicrous number of enemies. The fun that can be had in doing this is almost criminal; forget games with the complications of things such as "3D graphics" and a "story." Just give me a brightly colored target to shoot at, and I'll give you a game that will rob hours from your life, and you won't even ask for them back.
Features from the original Geometry Wars, such as the bombs to clear the map when you're surrounded, are still present, although Galaxies boasts a few new additions. Collecting the yellow shapes from destroyed enemies earns you geoms, which can trade for power-ups or to unlock new and more challenging levels. Levels are split up into solar systems, with each planet representing a different level, with the later, more difficult systems costing more to unlock. Power-ups include stationary turrets that fire in every direction, attack and defense bonuses, bait to lure enemies away and a geom magnet to help you collect more.
You can equip one power-up per level, and it gains experience as you play. After playing through a level once and failing, as often happens, an element of tactics comes in, where you try to figure out which power-up you'll need to equip in order to complete the mission or which power-up needs to be made more powerful for the future. This is when you realize that there's much more to Galaxies than you initially gave it credit for. There are a plethora of levels and enemies to beat, and this is no easy task.
The first few levels may have you scoffing at the simplicity of it all, but the game scales up the difficulty as you progress, and the later levels become an exercise in futility. Homing enemies that move at light speed and are released in waves of thousands come shooting at you, and the once-simple level designs become much more complicated and devious by shrinking the space or introducing barriers. The learning curve may be pretty gradual, but trying to get all of the gold medals in each level requires a certain degree of mastery.
The multiplayer modes add to the longevity of the Galaxies, stretching out the limited gameplay variety enough to lure you back. The multiplayer segment promises some interesting situations, with players sharing bombs, multipliers and the same score in Cooperative mode and players competing to achieve a higher score in Simultaneous mode. However, Versus mode allows one player to release waves of enemies while the other has to defend against them, which could mean a speedy end to a friendship.
The controls mimic the gameplay in their simplicity. You can use either the touch-screen or the face buttons to control when and where you fire, the d-pad controls movement and the left shoulder button releases bombs. You'd be at a severe disadvantage if you decided to use the face buttons to fire, though, since the touch-screen is so seamlessly integrated into the firing system. The sheer number of enemies also requires quick and precise shooting, which can really only be achieved via the touch-screen. The controls are perfectly suited to the gameplay and can't really be faulted. It's surprising how tense Galaxies can make you feel; there is no dynamic lighting or in-depth sounds, but the pumping beat and incredibly fast-paced game will have you on the edge of your seat.
Criticizing Galaxies for being repetitive is kind of like criticizing snow for being cold. The whole concept of the game is to create an addictive experience that is essentially the same thing over and over again, only in slightly different ways. On paper, this may seem like a completely valid critique, but in practice it could not be further off. This title thrives on repetition, and changing the gameplay or adding new elements would confuse and simply ruin a game that is the very definition of "pick up and play." The lifespan is enough to keep you playing into the wee hours of the night, but it's not really enough to keep you engrossed for months. This is the pinnacle of travel gaming: something that makes the hours fly by if you have time to kill but not something you would want to invest in long-term.
Graphically, Galaxies is bright, colorful and surprisingly varied given the limited scope for differentiation of enemies. You'll soon come to know and loath some of the shapes, while rejoicing in the easy scores racked up in obliterating vast umbers of others. Unfortunately, the title often tries to bite off more than it can chew, and the vast numbers of enemies that materialize all at once will significantly slow down the game on certain levels, especially if you have the nerve to move or fire at any of them. This seems like one of the few games where lagging should not be an issue, but it really is. Admittedly, the slowdown allows for faster reaction times on some of the levels that require superhuman agility to complete, but it's hardly purposeful and feels like a major letdown in an otherwise solid title.
The audio is a constant stream of beats and techno music, and it fits the game like a glove. The repetitive music tracks mimic the repetition of the gameplay and the constant sound of your gunfire; it puts you into a trance that keeps you playing a level until your eyes start to water. It may not be the most inspired soundtrack, but everything in Galaxies seems designed to keep you playing "just one more level," and the audio is key to this.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is like nicotine in game form. It is bright, fast and fun; it does everything a handheld game is supposed to do and doesn't pretend to be something it's not. Simplicity is key to the game, and its longevity depends on how long the gamer wants to play, since there is really no end point or variation in the style of play as you progress. The only major flaws in this title are its difficulty in the later levels and the bewildering graphical faults in such a simply designed game. If you're after simple game that's fun to play on the bus, then Galaxies will fit the bill. It has a lot to offer to the casual gamer, but if you're after something with a little more depth, then you may have to look elsewhere.
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