Conscious thought is overrated. Careful planning and consideration take time. When you've got a pile of dodging green squares on one side and a swarm of blue diamonds heading straight into a pulsing red hole that's about to explode on the other, threat analysis just isn't an option. A few shots to scatter or kill the greens while dodging to get a line of fire that both shrinks the red hole and halts the marching of the blues will take care of the situation, but it's a plan born between eyes and hands. As for the brain, its job is to go “Ooh, pretty!” at all the glowing, sparking pseudo-vector mayhem while staying out of the way.
Geometry Wars is back, and its done an amazing job of transforming itself from a $5 download to a full retail product. Originally a freebie with Project Gotham Racing 2, it (along with Mutant Storm) helped revive the twin-stick shooter when the genre was all but dead. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved refined the basic formula to perfection, and now Geometry Wars Galaxies expands the series considerably, offering everything from dozens of levels with individual leaderboards to new enemies, swarm patterns, and even multiplayer. It's a well-rounded package that earns its full-game price, and fans of the series owe it to themselves to check out all the lovely new changes it brings.
Galaxies mixes up the challenge enough that it's always a treat to see what's next even while it beats your reflexes into shape with a tire iron.
While a level structure is the most obvious new feature, it's hardly the biggest addition. Taking that award is the addition of geoms, which are left behind by destroyed enemies. Geoms are little yellow shards that stay on screen a few seconds before disappearing, and flying near one causes it to gravitate towards the ship. Collecting them not only adds a new level of risk, causing you to fly far closer to enemies than before, but also adds a fun reward structure as well. Geoms act as in-game currency, letting you buy access to new solar systems, the levels within those systems, and even new AI drones to fight along beside you. Not only that, geoms replace points as the tally by which new bombs and lives are rewarded, primarily because of their effect on the score. Each geom adds +1 to the bonus multiplier, raising it as high as x150, making scores in the 10,000,000 range relatively easy to attain. That's a huge change compared to Retro Evolved, where 1,000,000 was a major achievement. Score still comes into play with the leaderboards, of course, but it also has a secondary purpose in earning medals.
Each level has three score goals to earn bronze, silver, and gold medals. Because each level is something different, with ever-changing enemy patterns and level gimmicks, the goal for earning medals will be different as well. A one-life, no bombs level will make earning the gold a 5,000,000 point challenge, while a more open board with plenty of bonus opportunities can require 200,000,000 or more. Hitting the top spot is almost always a challenge, though getting all gold will depend on how much patience you have for some of the more obnoxious levels.
Some levels, such as the previously mentioned “one life, no bomb” challenges, are perfect. There are a couple of levels set in Pac-Man style mazes that make for a fun change of pace, and the levels where dozens of enemies spawn on one side of the field at once and rush the player are wonderfully frantic. The whirlpool levels, on the other hand, just aren't very fun at all. A vortex in the middle of the screen sends a wave rotating around the screen, changing direction at random intervals from clockwise to counter-clockwise. Dealing with that constant current, whether it's making the ship go too fast or molasses-slow, is more frustrating than fun. Fortunately, most of the other level types make up for it nicely. Galaxies mixes up the challenge enough that it's always a treat to see what's next even while it beats your reflexes into shape with a tire iron. Level variables range from type and density of enemies to different obstacles, and even the arena shape can make a difference. This constant change in levels in shape, style, and gimmicks means a constantly shifting risk-reward structure, keeping Galaxies fresh from beginning to end.
It's too bad, then, that the end is where two issues pop up. First is that, while there's a final level, there's no actual end to the game, not even a “Thanks for playing.” Getting medals on all levels earns no reward whatsoever, making completion feel somewhat empty. Of course, seeing all the levels means you'll need a copy of the DS version of Geometry Wars Galaxies, because the final solar system is locked until the two games are linked together.. Technically the last area is a bonus, but its presentation in-game is as the final area, complete with a “Spend money to unlock me!” message, makes it feel more like a missing piece than a fun extra.
There's a small problem at the game's beginning, too, but it's easily fixed. Galaxies's default control uses the nunchuck to steer and the Wii remote to aim, and it's worth checking out once before pulling out the classic controller and never doing that again. The classic controller isn't perfect, because the octagonal grooves around the analog sticks tend to force player fire in eight directions instead of 360, but it's much better than the default “move and point” scheme.
Still, a controller that takes a bit of getting used to, a few wonky levels, and a weak ending are hardly the worst problems a game can face. The journey to Geometry Wars mastery is a fun and addicting one, and each level can be considered its own game by the series's earlier standards. Learning each level, figuring out which AI drone works best in it, and surviving in the ensuing chaos caused by hundreds of on-screen enemies is a total blast. Geometry Wars Galaxies is gorgeous, accessible, deeper than it looks, and filled to the brim with twin-stick shooter excellence.