From little acorns do tall oaks grow. Geometry Wars began life as a bonus game inside Project Gotham Racing 2, though such was the word of mouth it is not surprising to learn some people were merely buying PGR2 just to play it. Since then the Geometry Wars franchise has managed to change, improve and refine its aspects with each iteration, bringing us finally to its first stand-alone retail excursion. But is what was once a bonus game now worthy of its new price tag?
Pleasingly and thankfully, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Although developed by Kuju instead of Bizarre Creations, it has kept the same feel and addictiveness while taking the concept to the next level. The same mechanic exists, in that the player tries to survive as long as possible while destroying everything on screen, but now instead of one playfield there are sixty-four, each with different features, enemies and rules.
These playfields, or planets, are grouped together in a number of systems representing the "galaxy". However there is no direct linear progression through achievement; the player is free to attempt and battle in whatever systems are currently open to them in the quest for a better score and more geoms. New to Galaxies, geoms are the currency of progression and development, and the key to high scores.
It is an interesting and welcome game concept, one that has dual implications and brings a new dynamic into consideration whereby the player now has to run a risk and reward balancing act. Available to collect in various values, geoms are produced by almost every enemy destroyed and are required to pay for the newly added AI droid assistance and to unlock further planets. However that is merely their purpose on a one dimensional level; even when everything has been bought there is still the need to collect them during play because each one boosts the score multiplier another notch until the maximum of x150 is reached. And dying resets the multiplier...
It soon becomes quite obvious that to achieve the greatest scores in Galaxies will not only require expert shooting and avoiding skills, but the judgement to assess when to scoot about and suck in nearby geoms to boost the multiplier. In true Geometry Wars fashion each level starts off slow and increasingly builds the tension and freneticism until almost breaking point; though when the odds are starting to look bad, the player can often be thankful for the choice of AI droid at their side.
As the other major addition to proceedings, it acts as a self aware, indestructible, decision making second player. There are eight different behaviour types available, ranging from straight shooter, to encircling the player or a rapid fire turret, and the decision of which to utilise when is based upon what type of planet currently on [/b]and the player's own style. The longer the player survives, the more experience a particular droid acquires and the better it gets. It's a terrific idea, one that allows so much variance and tactical balancing, and quite often there is never only just one droid that will suit a level.
Which brings attention towards the planets themselves. There are a number of themes, but each one is unique and executed slightly differently to its counterparts, be it a straight survive-at-all-costs frenzy with only one life to play with, or the minefield where the key to huge scores is triggering the explosions to destroy the enemies instead of shooting them. Or perhaps the more tactical nuances of a tight maze and relentlessly advancing forces appeals? Then there's the bewildering assault that is the gravity well level. Galaxies will challenge your brain as much to devise counter solutions as it will your reactions.
There are bronze, silver and gold medal score levels to achieve on every planet, each bringing about a geom monetary award. Better play means more geoms, which mean more planets unlocked and better droids bought, which mean more experience from playing, which means more geoms... and so the self fulfilling cycle continues until such point where all that's left to gain are better high scores.
The inclusion of online high score tables for a game such as this should be considered mandatory, and their presence means you can always aim for better, always strive to improve, change or develop new tactics to get yourself further up the rankings. That is part of the incentive to continue playing long after medals have been achieved on each planet (although annoyingly it takes a few button presses to register each); the other being that the game is so enjoyable and exciting either way. It rarely drops the pressure, forcing you to concentrate full-time and, for want of a better phrase, is another game guaranteed to induce "the zone" while playing.
Graphically it retains all the previous vector style trappings and mad, psychedelic explosions and chaos when things are destroyed. While not as pin sharp as the high definition 360 versions, there are no issues regarding being able to make out objects on the screen, even when all hell has broken loose. Audio is also of the same ilk, with a variety of different upbeat dance rhythms and beats encouraging and urging the player on further.
Galaxies is a fresh take on the concept, one where all the new additions are a genuine plus for the play experience and add so much to the overall game. Though you will need to buy a classic controller to get the most from it; the game does not support a Gamecube controller and using the nunchuk/remote combination can be frustrating at many a time. It is hard to know where the franchise can go from here in terms of improvement, and there is even a version of Retro Evolved included for good measure, along with a competitive dual player option. If you loved, or even just liked Geometry Wars then you should acquire this.