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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Geometry Wars Galaxies (Wii) 

This isn't the deepest game on Wii, but it's classic gameplay mechanics, simple graphics an intense pacing make for an invigorating change of pace from the usual fare. The complete, nonlinear original is included, but Geometry Wars Galaxies goes a step further with an extended mission mode where you can use a drone with special abilities, unlock additional levels and earn some fairly impressive high scores. It's pick up and play approach makes it simple to learn, but the high level of difficulty make it anything but condescending to casual players. Wii owners will discover that Geometry Wars remains an challenging game and with an incredibly high replay value.

Taking its inspiration from golden age arcade classics like Robotron: 2084 and Tempest, Geometry Wars Galaxies feels like a tribute to those titles in many ways. It's simple, top-down approach to gameplay, easy to understand controls and wire frame vector 80's-style graphics are a throwback to the days when high scores and surviving waves were paramount concerns. Despite its classic feel, there are a number of distinctly modern elements in the game as well. It's spectacular particle explosions, bright colors and techno soundtrack give the game some contemporary credibility, while the Wii edition's new Galaxies mode adds mission-based levels, RPG-style upgrades and a new drone to the standard game. Those unfamiliar with the series might want to start off by playing a few rounds of the original game, Retro Evolved. This is the most straightforward mode, where the object is to survive wave after wave of enemies to achieve the highest score possible. It's a fairly simple proposition, but like many classic games, much harder to achieve these simple goals than it appears. You'll probably be able to get the hang of the basic mechanics easily enough, but the trick comes when you try to beat the high scores, which requires a great deal of persistence and skill to achieve. This is precisely what makes the game so appealing and why Geometry Wars Galaxies feels perfectly suited on the Wii, a console that has a lot more hardcore games than its given credit for by many players.

The initial stages start off slowly, with only a few enemies onscreen, but things quickly take a more intense flow as you face off against dozens of foes at the same time. Most of the initial foes take only a shot or two to destroy, but you'll find more advanced enemies such as black hole-like beings that suck you towards them. You must avoid contact with them or else you lose a life. You have several advantages to use which can help you blast away foes. The first of these is increased firepower, that can give you double or triple shots to slice through many foes at once. In addition, as you destroy enemies, they release Geoms, which are small yellow dots that increase your score multiplier exponentially. Building up a high multiplier allows you to rack up points very quickly, but you have to be careful, since losing a life penalizes you by returning this to the beginning. The levels or waves in the Retro Evolved mode come at the player relentlessly, giving you little room to breathe, and testing your skills, endurance and concentration. It's a formula that's worked well since the classic arcade games and makes Geometry Wars an addictive experience where you want to go just one more round to see if you can beat your high score. The game's overall pacing is nearly perfect, and while its challenging, it never gets dull. This is in large part because of the diverse selection of enemies, each of which has their own attack patterns and strategies, making the game a true test of skill. While the gameplay quickly becomes almost frenetic, the key element here is learning to anticipate enemy attack patterns and appearances before they happen. This split-second difference in reaction time can make all the difference between surviving and the game ending prematurely.

A large part of Geometry Wars' appeal lies in its controls. While using the standard nunchuck and wiimote is a bit awkward, since you move with the nunchuck's d-pad while pointing at the screen to direct your firing line. Using this makes for a frustrating experience. However, the game really shines when you use the Wii's Classic Controller. This simplifies the controls so that the left analog stick moves while the right one directs your fire. It's here where you can see the game's resemblance, in terms of control feel, to the arcade classics. You can move anywhere within the gameboard, which has barriers at the edges and fire in any direction. Your can see most of the playfield here and even see some of the enemies approaching from outside your barrier in some instances. The board doesn't change shape in the standard mode, but the campaign mode adds different playfield shapes and styles, and adds other obstacles. This makes some of the campaign mode's levels more challenging and less predictable, but does tend to make things feel a little bit gimmicky at points. However, the added challenge of gradually building up your abilities and weapons via the drone adds more replay value to the game. Geometry Wars Galaxies' mode system of unlocking different drone abilities, worlds and stages is fairly simple. As you collect Geoms in each level, they're added to your score, and can be used to purchase additional items. This gives you plenty of incentive to keep on playing while helping to keep some of the monotony at bay. In addition to the main game, you can use the Wi-Fi connection to connect to the DS edition of the game, which allows you to download a demo of the main game, or use your scores to unlock additional content. This cross-platform co-operative mode adds some more appeal to this already solid release, though its probably too much to ask for Xbox Live connectivity.

As we went over earlier, the game's simple, yet robust graphics engine recalls the golden age of arcade games with neon-colored vector objects streaming over a mostly black starfield. The game's look is very much retro, right down to the green vector score indictatrors which give things a cohesive early 80's fee. The massive particle explosions burst off the screen in waves of color and the intensity is heightened by a driving techno score than pulses with action. Under the flashy exterior, the game's controls, play mechanics and flow are quite superb, with a smooth flow of action and color that makes for an invigorating experience throughout. Geometry Wars is definitely one of the most influential games of the past few years, and it's been copied in may ways. This Wii edition feels a little bit late, but those who are new or coming back to the scene will probably find it a refreshing change of pace. If you've already played it on Xbox Live, there probably isn't enough new content here to get excited about, but this is still a great game no matter. While its controls and overall gameplay are probably overly familiar, since the game's been copied by many other 'casual' shooters, this original title still holds up well thanks to its simple gameplay, appealing visuals and intense challenge. Since you can find the game relatively cheaply these days, it's an even better purchase than before.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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