Developer: Kuju / Bizarre Creations
Release Date: 27/11/07
Having grown from cult mini-game in Project Gotham Racing 2, to Xbox Live Arcade favourite and now this, DS-flavoured update, the continued appeal of Bizzare's modern-day twitch classic could been seen as curious to many. After all, this retro-fancying shooter sits somewhat uncomfortably next to (amongst other things) movie tie-ins, pet simulators and puzzle training games currently filling the shelves. Fans of the series can attest with assurance though, that Geometry Wars is a lovingly crafted and consuming videogame in its own right.
So, in Geometry Wars: Galaxies, the premise is the same as it's always been, with the emphasis placed on shooting everything in sight and staying alive as long as possible. It really isn't that clichéd to call it the love-child of some sort of Tempest, Robotron 2084 and Asteroids threesome, and it wouldn't be stretching the truth to say it holds equally as much playability as those illustrious classics. Included within the game modes is the Retro Evolved edition, which almost serves as a reminder to the change of pace found in this new version. In Galaxies, instead of just the one, there are now multiple stages (planets) to complete, or in another way, "explore" for points in an attempt to unlock further stages, or upgrade the new droid buddy. Droids follow you around, each with different behaviours, and are useful on some stages more than others: learning which type is suited to which level can often be the key between being awarded a bronze or gold medal. Little stars (“Geoms”) also now emerge from destroyed enemies, and collecting them add to your score multiplier, as well as top-up your currency for purchasing new planets, galaxies and droids.
Surprisingly, the change in control method from analogue sticks to stylus isn't as fiddly as it might sound, and there are enough options to alter the button layout should it be needed (even lefties are catered for). The D-pad moves your ship whilst the touch-screen is used to shoot in any direction you aim the stylus. Reaction times are easily the same as they would be using an analogue or arcade stick, and by reverting to button/D-pad controls it's easy to see how much more accurate and effective the stylus is. It's actually the basic movement of the Claw-like ship with the D-pad that is sometimes troublesome: particularly on a DS Lite with its noticeable central dead-zone. Additionally, hand-ache can set in after a while, particularly as the player has to continuously apply pressure to the touch-screen, shooting through 360 degrees all whilst keeping a cool head, which is easier said than done. Such is the intense nature of the game, Galaxies transfixes your eyes onto that tiny ship, and the dozens of pretty neon vectors crowding and diving towards it, the explosions and ricocheting bullets satisfyingly jumping across the empty backgrounds are almost ignored. It is not only a test of skill and reaction, as much as it is one of concentration and will. Even when down to your last life, it's generally never a good idea to give up hope, as it's perfectly likely a monster credit run will take shape when under pressure.
You'll quickly learn by pattern recognition which enemies need to be dispatched quickly, and subliminally give each their own personality (and will brew hatred for the more relentless attackers). Special credit has to be given to Kuju for the level designs and enemy attack patterns, which always feel fresh and challenging on each of the 60 stages. Some levels will become favourites because they’re easier to attain massive scores on, whereas others are notoriously slow-going: but all require a different type of approach. Attaining bronze medals on each is usually simple enough, and on a particularly good run, silver becomes more achievable. But getting gold medals requires a concentrated period of attack, skill and a dash of luck, and it's within this challenge that Galaxies will have players coming back time and again. Should this prove too much, three multiplayer modes offer welcome respite from the single-player action. The co-operative mode, in which you and a friend share both lives and smart bombs in the quest for a high score, is particularly enjoyable, and a DS-specific versus mode, in which one player can spawn the stage enemies, also proves an interesting diversion. Thankfully, a Download Play option is available for those without the game.
Even with all of the neon loveliness going on, the handheld version lacks those splendid vector-warping effects and vibrant neon glows found in its big brother console equivalents. When things get particularly hectic, slowdown unfortunately sets in which is often a mixed blessing; with a x150 score multiplier - finger nervously hovering over the smart bomb button and hundreds of enemies attacking from all angles - it brings welcome relief, but at the same time makes everything an awful lot easier.
Shooters are quite thin on the ground for the DS, so fans of the genre will find enough here to keep them going for a good while, particularly in the quest to attain gold medals for each and every planet in every galaxy. As a full-priced game and for gamers who have spent a lot of time with previous editions, it’s harder to recommend, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact this is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to the Geometry Wars concept. Galaxies has the potential to convert more than just '80s arcade enthusiasts to its retro-tinged ways.