Review: Geometry Wars packs a bigger bang

geowarsboxart.jpgAs the debate over the validity of game reviews reaches unprecedented volume, the very purpose of the craft of writers everywhere has been called into question. Are reviews merely written to pander to the selfish bias of stubborn fans, and have our words themselves completely lost their importance? Could it really be true that most readers simply scroll past the text in search of an all-telling artificial number at the end?

Perhaps, at their simplest function, game reviews are meant to help gamers decide whether or not a given game is worth their hard-earned cash. And if that is indeed the case, this review of Geometry Wars: Galaxies can be brief:

Buy this game. Immediately. Now for those precious few who still practice the archaic art of reading reviews, let’s explore why Galaxies is a must-buy.

The young Geometry Wars series has uniquely humble origins. The original game was actually a simple minigame in the 2003 Xbox title Project Gotham Racing 2. An “evolved” version emerged two years later as a launch title for the new Xbox 360’s Live Arcade, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. It was an absolute smash, elevating Geometry Wars to cult-classic status and priming it for more ambitious undertakings.

Enter Sierra and their newly released Nintendo exclusive, Geometry Wars: Galaxies. Despite the successes and fanfare surrounding the series, Galaxies is actually the first fully realized Geometry Wars console experience. And upon its announcement, there were immediate concerns as to whether a concept as simple as Geometry Wars could be stretched into a full console game.

Those worries have been proven absolutely unnecessary.

Galaxies is an incredibly rich package. Though the $39.99 price tag may bring apprehension to some, gamers should approach the cost with the complete opposite mentality. At that price, Galaxies as an absolute steal; it is $10.00 cheaper than most Wii games, but offers an incredibly fun and addictive experience few, if any, other Wii titles can match. In fact, players who have yet to complete Super Mario Galaxy may want to wait before committing to a Geometry Wars purchase.

Because it will be difficult to go back to anything else on Wii afterward, Mario included.

geowars1.jpgNewcomers to the series should think of Geometry Wars: Galaxies as a modernized, beautifully mutated version of the arcade classic Asteroid. Players control a small, claw-like ship through vast grids of “space” and battle a never-ending and steadily increasing onslaught of enemy fighters. The catch? Everything in the game, from the grids to the enemies, are composed entirely of simple geometric shapes. In motion, the game looks something like a high school math book would if the even-numbered pages started a violent revolt and launched a full-scale offensive against the odd.

Though the Wii lacks the high-definition visual punch of the Xbox 360, Geometry Wars has lost only a minimal portion of its graphical wonder in the move to Wii. The colors are vibrant, enemy fighters have a radiant glow and the combat triggers dramatic displays of massive, hypnotic, multi-colored particle explosions across the screen. Despite the industry’s obsession with realism, Galaxies is one of the prettiest games of the year. It is visually intoxicating.

Geometry Wars offers a decidedly retro, tried-and-true gameplay experience, and Galaxies stays very faithful to the original concept. Many of the same enemy shapes and attributes have returned, as have the swirling gravity vortexes that affect everything on the screen. But Sierra has added some incredibly well-implemented new features to the game, some of which make playing prior versions far less thrilling. Not only from an aesthetic standpoint with the addition of new enemy shapes and grids that constantly surprise and excite as the game progresses, but also in terms of the gameplay itself.

Enemies now drop small yellow shapes when destroyed; these “geoms” must be collected by the player to unlock new galaxies and upgrade the abilities of the many different drones at the player’s disposal. Each geom adds to the points multiplier, which maxes out at x150 per enemy, making for potentially enormous scores and, of course, an insatiable hunger for geoms.

geowars3.jpgCollecting geoms is an incredibly satisfying experience. Time and time again, players will find themselves taking risky maneuvers into an escalating group of enemies to collect the quickly-fading geoms the last group left behind. Therein lies one aspect of the addictive nature of the game; even after a few close-calls, players will still take those risks, constantly reassuring themselves they’ll make it out alive. The geoms system adds depth to the original Geometry Wars formula, and past versions feel thin without them.

The drone system also adds tremendously to the depth of Galaxies. Players have eight different drones at their disposal, but most are inaccessible when the game begins, unlockable only with geoms collected in-game. Each drone offers a different attribute to assist players during Galaxies’ deliciously chaotic gameplay, and they can be leveled-up to increase their power and intelligence. Powering up the “sniper” drone allows it better accuracy and faster firing power for taking down high-priority targets as they surround you. Increase the power of the “collect” drone, and it will move even faster and further, traversing the entire screen on its own to collect geoms left behind by destroyed enemies.

Drones also add some strategy to the experience; using a rapid-fire “turret” drone may be more useful for one grid, but it could be catastrophic for another.

But Sierra didn’t stop with drones and geoms. They fleshed out the Geometry Wars experience even further in Galaxies, offering a robust selection of inventive levels. There are 10 different galaxies, each with a number of different planets adding up to 64 total levels for players to blast through. And each level has a points requirement for players to earn medals – bronze, silver and gold – to open up even more planets. Factor in the addictive nature of multipliers, upgrades, geoms, drones and medals with the impossible-to-put-down Geometry Wars gameplay, and it is easy to see why Galaxies is such a rich package.

geowars2.jpgAnd here’s the kicker: that’s just the Galaxies mode. Sierra also added the entire Retro Evolved game, which can be played alone or with a second player, and took the much-appreciated extra effort to add wireless DS compatibility. DS owners can download Retro Evolved to their handheld units from the Wii like a Download Station and play it until they power down their DS. There are also online leaderboards, special galaxies specifically designed for even more multiplayer use and customizable control options.

All for $39.99. Price is not a weakness of Galaxies, but one of its strengths.

Speaking of controls, Galaxies can be played with either the Wii remote and nunchuk or the classic controller. With the Wii remote, players move their targeting reticule on the screen, blasting in whichever direction they are aiming and moving through the grid with the analog stick on the nunchuk. It is actually very precise, but it can be difficult to utilize under pressure, and having control amidst the chaos is essential in Galaxies. Some may find no fault with the Wii remote, but those who do should take note: the classic controller could provide veteran gamers with far greater and quicker control.

I could rave about Galaxies for days, but it still wouldn’t do the game justice. Though it is a strikingly simple concept, it is incredibly addictive and perfectly realized on Wii. There simply isn’t much criticism to throw at this third-party treasure. Wii owners who love video games at their purest and most addictive would be absolutely foolish to let this one slip by without at least a rental.

A few late fees from Blockbuster, and you’ll see what is so special about this game. Geometry Wars: Galaxies gets all 4 stars. Believe it.