Dual-stick Shooter Fans Rejoice
Sometimes origins are different than one would imagine. Case in point: Geometry Wars was never intended to be a game in its own right. It started out as a mini-game that players could access through the in-game garage in Project Gotham Racing 2 on the Xbox.
A console jump later, it was released as one of the first titles on Xbox LIVE Arcade and went on to become one of the most well-reviewed downloadable games. Nearly three years later and we finally have a properly numbered sequel in our hands. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is a follow-up done right – its unique visual style and distinct gameplay modes add up to a downloadable title that few should miss.
Being a dual-stick shooter, Retro Evolved 2 sticks to a simple control set. The left stick moves your wire frame ship, the right stick fires, and the triggers are tied to screen-clearing bombs. Unlike a game like Super Stardust HD – where you can pilot your ship around a sphere (effectively giving you room to constantly flee) – Retro Evolved keeps the quarters restricted. No matter what mode you’re playing, your ship is always stuck in a box; it doesn’t end up being claustrophobic, but it’s definitely confining. This encourages you to constantly destroy enemies because if you don’t, it won’t take long for the arena to fill up entirely.
The enemies may be simple in design – such as purple pinwheels, orange fighter planes, blue diamonds, green boxes, and fire-colored snakes – but they are plenty threatening in their own unique way. Purple pinwheels bounce around the screen in random patterns; the orange fighter planes fly across the screen in a direct lines (either horizontally or vertically); blue diamonds inch slowly across the screen; the fire snakes weave around in a menacing manner; and the green boxes may be the worst – they continually race toward the player while swerving to avoid shots from your ship. These color coded enemy designs help you immediately recall enemy A.I. patterns and adjust quickly, which is a good thing since the screen is littered with these geometric baddies.
From a general standpoint, Retro Evolved 2 doesn’t mess with dual-stick shooter conventions all that much. Using your space blaster you clear away waves of enemies, all in an effort to survive as long as possible and rack up the highest possible score. To help your score climb quickly, the game relies on a multiplier system combined with items called Geoms. Every enemy killed leaves behind a Geom, which, if you pick it up, increases your multiplier, allowing your score to multiply based on the number of Geoms collected. Geoms disappear, so you have to be fast. Ignoring Geoms makes it harder for your score to climb and you’ll miss bonuses (like one ups and extra bombs).
Bizarre Creations plays it nice with the multiplier system. Instead of resetting your multiplier after you die, the count sticks in place. If you die with a high multiplier – say 300x – you’ll continue right where you left off. It’s weird to say this, but there is a positive side effect to dying: When your ship is destroyed, a bomb is unleashed, clearing out the cluster of enemies that brought about your untimely demise.
Where Retro Evolved 2 does mess with dual-stick conventions is in its six modes. However, all six are not available at the start; you unlock modes in sequential order based on your score and time played. The addition of allowing you to unlock modes via time investment is a nice feature in case you’re not a high score player. Players will notice, before selecting any mode, their friends’ high scores for that mode are displayed in a mini leaderboard under the mode’s heading. It’s a nice little touch that helps you keep track of your friends without making you go out of your way.
The first mode you’ll start with is Deadline, which is very standard. Your objective is to get as high a score as possible in three minutes. After that, you can step up to King mode – an inventive concept based around zones. Stripped of your bombs, you can only fire when your ship enters a color-designated circle. Once inside the circle, you’re protected from enemies – they can’t enter the zone and you can fire away. However, the zone only lasts a few seconds, so you have to move to the next one. That’s where trouble comes along: When switching zones, you can’t fire, so you’re at risk. And, since you only have one life, one slip up is all it takes to end the game.
Evolved is another simple mode. You only have four lives and three bombs, with more lives and bombs available at predetermined point areas (you’ll get your first extra life at 100,000 points). Pacifism mixes things up. You can’t use your blaster and have no bombs. The only way to kill enemies is to lure a fleet near a gate. Once you pass through the gate a small explosion fires, destroying nearby enemy craft. Waves mode goes back to a more straightforward approach. Enemies come at you in distinct formations, and you have to clear a path through all the chaos. The final mode – Sequence – has a level structure. You’re given 30 seconds to beat each of the 20 levels. You can die, but then the level is counted as incomplete.
Tying together the arcade package is the multiplayer. You can play all the modes with up to three others locally in individual or two-on-two scoring-based matches or segment the play so one player pilots the ship and the other shoots. There are also power-ups like speed boosts and damage increases. The only downside to this is that it’s all local. There is no play over Xbox LIVE. It could be argued that the game is meant to be played with all your friends in the same room, but the inclusion of net play would have been nice.
Aside from the omission of online play, the only other complaint that can be leveled against Retro Evolved 2 is the crushing difficulty. This is not a game that takes time to ease players into the swing of things. On your first try, in many of the modes, you’ll die within 30 seconds. Like many arcade games, the best way to improve is to continually play. While the challenge present may scare away more casual players, the more hardcore will call it a blessing in disguise.
Even with all the chaos going on, you can still appreciate the fireworks display. Retro Evolved 2 runs at a higher resolution (1080p) than the past game and never suffers from any framerate problems. The simple touches – such as the gravity wells that look like psychedelic kaleidoscopes – are what make the game. Joining the bright, wire frame graphical style is the techno soundtrack. The thumping bass notes and fast tempo complement the quick pace of play nicely.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is a must buy for dual-stick shooter fans. The sharp difficulty, new modes, and low price point ($10) add up to a game that’s hard to turn down.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Style is substance: Between the flawless framerate and space-themed fireworks display, Retro Evolved 2 is a game with a fantastic and unique visual identity. 4.6 Control
It’s a dual-stick shooter, so there aren’t many buttons to memorize. What’s there works. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Trance-inducing techno music and vibrant explosions make for a good audio package. 4.5 Play Value
If the game just stuck to high scores and one or two modes, then the replay value would fade fast, but the inclusion of six well-executed modes makes it a game you’ll be coming back to months down the line. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.