A game with Galaxy in the name featuring gravity effects? This sounds familiar.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is a fleshed out version of the Xbox Live Arcade space shooter title, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. It was at one time the most-downloaded game from Xbox Live Arcade, which is especially impressive given the fact that the original creators “wanted to give the game away for free" “as a gift to hardcore gamers," but were forced by Microsoft to charge for it. Yet, with its simple downloadable origins, what does Galaxies do to make a disc-based version worth it?
Geometry Wars bills itself as an extreme adaptation of the arcade classic, Asteroids. While this is only nominally true, Geometry Wars does embody the classic gameplay style of early arcade games, extending it with capabilities of more modern gaming hardware. Similar to Asteroids, all graphics are made up of 2-D vector-style shapes, though with considerably more special effects than the 1979 inspiration. Whereas in Asteroids, direction, acceleration, and shooting direction are all tied together, Geometry Wars decouples these, which makes for a very different game. Yet, the goal remains the same: destroy everything on-screen to rack up points while avoiding your own ship's destruction for as long as possible.
Galaxies includes two control schemes. The first uses the Nunchuk’s analog stick to move the ship, while the Remote pointer sets the direction of fire. The direction is indicated by a laser line, and the actual firing is performed with A. This control scheme works very naturally and is good for new players. It allows players to quickly spread fire across 360 degrees. The second control type uses dual analog sticks like the original and requires a classic controller. By using this control scheme, the gameplay changes significantly, which seems to work better in more frantic situations. The left stick controls movement while the right stick controls the direction of fire as well as doing the firing itself. This scheme is more suited for evading enemies while firing backwards to destroy the pursuers. The octagon shape surrounding the control sticks are a minor nuisance since they make it harder to precisely shoot at angles other than the eight set directions. The Z (or L) trigger is used to set off a bomb, which destroys all enemies on screen and should be used as a last resort due to its rarity.
There are about a dozen enemy types, represented by different shapes and colors, including several that are new to Galaxies. These enemies have various levels of tracking ability; some will wander aimlessly, others will directly pursue your ship, and still others will actively avoid your shots. The circle enemy sits quietly until shot, after which it unleashes a gravity-altering stream, which can either suck in surrounding enemies or repel shots. Wave upon wave of enemies appears in an attempt to overwhelm the player spatially and mentally.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies includes ten galaxies, each with around half a dozen planets, for a grand total of 64 stages. While Retro Evolved was limited to a single rectangular playing field, Galaxies includes many oddly-shaped levels. Some levels include walls that move, indestructible ships that lay mines, or gravity effects, each which change the game’s dynamic. There are also levels inspired by Asteroids that include larger ships that break into smaller ships when destroyed. Each level includes three scoring goals, bronze, silver, and gold, and keeps its own high score. Even better, each stage includes its own online leaderboard, so the truly ambitious can seek to slot their name for all to see online. Each level also has a set number of starting ships and bombs. The only real annoyance with levels is that their method of indicating content is based on their name, so players must decipher prefixes to find the styles of stages that they want to play.
Aside from level variation, two major additions have been made to Galaxies in comparison to Retro Evolved. The first are geoms, small objects left behind by nearly every destroyed ship. These geoms serve two purposes. For each on collected in a stage, the score multiplier increases by one until your ship is destroyed. This results in ridiculously huge scores, potentially up in the hundreds of billions despite the lowest-valued enemy only giving 25 base points. The multiplier can increase to a maximum of 150. Geoms also act as the game’s currency. Players use geoms to unlock galaxies and planets. The addition of geoms changes the game dynamic somewhat. Players are encouraged to fly into the location of their enemies rather than always maintaining distance. Neither style is really better or worse, just different.
The second addition is the drone, a small option-like ship that accompanies your own ship. There are eight drone types that can be unlocked with geoms. The various drones may launch their own attacks, collect geoms, or my favorite, a rapidly-encircling variety that effectively forms a shield around your ship. Each drone receives experience points based on play time when used, which lead to increased capability.
The game’s simple nature means that there are no load times, and the playfield literally pops right out of the menu system and then collapses back at Game Over. It’s just too bad that the entire game couldn’t just be loaded onto the Wii’s memory storage so you could play it without the disc.
Multiplayer is another new feature in Galaxies. Two multiplayer modes are available, co-op and versus. In both modes, both players play on the same field simultaneously. In co-op, players share lives, bombs, and score, while in versus, each of these components is individual to each player. There is only one galaxy available in multiplayer mode.
Galaxies also includes two versions of Retro Evolved, so players can experience the version that made the franchise famous. The first version is playable on Wii and includes its own online leaderboard. The second is the first downloadable DS game from the Wii system. Communication happens quickly, letting players take the game on the go. DS connectivity doesn’t end there, however. If players purchase the DS version of Galaxies, an extra galaxy is unlocked on both the Wii and DS games.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies will appeal to fans of arcade-style gameplay. It keeps its action simple, but intense. The stylistic effects integrate eye candy with challenge and require players to have a good combination of direct attention and peripheral vision. Galaxies improves upon the Retro Evolved experience, giving it depth with new and compelling characteristics, while maintaining the soul of the original. Beyond the addictive gameplay, the online leaderboards are sure to keep players challenged for a good while.