Geometry Wars: Galaxies
16th Jan 2008 | 08:27
So the bonus freebie inside an Xbox game that turned into a downloadable arcade classic finally comes to the Wii.
If you've heard of this before, you're probably aware that it started out as a bonus freebie within an Xbox game, before graduating to an expanded downloadable version on the 360.
And you probably know that it only cost about three or four quid, in which case you may be asking yourself who, in their right mind, would pay several times as much for another version on Wii.
However, this is no cheap and cheerful minigame. Galaxies takes the basic Geometry Wars format and drags it through 64 levels of twists and turns.
Each new planet offers a new sort of high score challenge, as you seek to upgrade your helper drone until you're equipped to take on the later, insanely difficult levels.
It's as good a shoot-'em-up as we've played in years, and the short acclimatisation period required to adjust from the original Xbox dual analogue controls reveals a game that's a perfect fit for the Wii remote.
It all adds up to new high scores
While it's possible to play in the old way, using a Classic controller,1 you absolutely must give the new controls a chance.
Moving the spaceship with the nunchuk, you simply aim a cursor around it to shoot very precisely, in 360.
At first you'll be all over the place, losing track of the cursor and firing the wrong way, but ten minutes spent figuring it out will really pay off on the high scores.
As soon as the control scheme clicked, we were performing the kind of manoeuvres that would have been impossible with dual analogue sticks.
The speed and accuracy of the remote is unrivalled, and it allows you to vibrate the stream of bullets to completely saturate a wide area of the screen.
The old Retro Evolved version from the Xbox 360 is included here as a bonus, and the remote soon helped us add an extra zero to our best score on that.
Geometry Wars owes a great deal to the arcade classic Robotron, with enemies materialising in the corners of the screen and swarming all over the place - except here there are many types that don't quite behave as you might expect.
Some will charge towards you, while others just drift randomly. One type will approach the back of your ship and flee when you face it, a bit like one of Mario's Boos, so you'll have to herd them into a corner to exterminate them.
There are gravity wells that bend the playfield, altering the path of your bullets, and giant enemies that split apart like Asteroids until they erupt in a shower of smaller version of themselves.
Snake-like creatures can only be shot in the head, and certain high-scoring craft will only move onto the playfield from the unreachable outer area when they think you're not looking.
The crystals maze
And the whole time, you'll be gathering the Geom crystals that boost your score multiplier up to a maximum of 150 times.
They're dropped by dead enemies, and the more of them you get, the more you'll have to spend on unlocking extra levels along with the new helper drones you'll need in order to be competitive in them.
It's possible to unlock a good proportion of the game within the first hour, as the prices charged for the majority of the levels are generous.
There's no doubt that if you keep grinding away at the first few levels, you'll be able to get them all in the end, so there's no issue with this being a game that's going to remain hidden to a large proportion of its players.
However, it does get very hard later on, when some levels restrict you to a single life or start you off in a shower of enemies instead of the usual gentle progression.
There are levels where you'll have to completely rethink your strategy, including ones where the targets approach mostly in waves from the top, like Galaga, or ones with holes punched out of the playfield, or moving obstacles, minefields, strange gravity fields, Pac-Man-style mazes...
Helping hands come at a price
Helper drones come in a variety of flavours, with the more exotic ones costing as much to unlock as several new levels.
They're invincible, but not all that much help at first. However, the more you play with each one, the more experience points it earns, and they all turn into something pretty useful by the end.
One type will help collect the Geoms, which makes life easier when you're after a high score, and another will lure enemies to the other side of the screen, forming a sort of bait ball that you can annihilate from afar.
It's an extremely good looking game, thanks to the ceaseless shower of particles that fills the screen as enemies burst apart and the playfield background ripples behind your bullets.
It's a testament to the skill of the designers that the moments when you wonder what killed you are extremely rare; despite the hectic appearance, it's very easy to read the screen.
The menus aren't so great as they don't use the pointer at all, and it's hard to remember which level is which as they all look the same.
But this is an absolute must for shoot-'em-up fans on Wii. Spectacular.