Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
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Sound 8
Gameplay 8

Geometry Wars is a throwback to the days of arcade games that gobbled up your coins as you desperately tried to beat the high-scores. It can be very frustrating and might feel like you have wasted your money initially, but the more you play it the more addictive it becomes.

Gameplay: Initially frustrating, but always addictive.

Graphics: Has a certain retro charm.

Sound: Could have done with some more variety

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Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

Developer: Bizarre Creations | Publisher: icrosoft Game Studios | Release Date: 2005 | Genre: Arcade / Shooter | Website: n/a | Purchase: Amazon

If you played Project Gotham Racing 2 on the original Xbox hardware, you should be familiar with the concept of Geometry Wars.  It started out as a mini-game, tucked away in the corner of a garage in PGR2, but proved to be so popular that it’s now available in “evolved” form.  As a flagship title for the Xbox live Arcade game concept, it proves that small, simple games can be very bit as addictive and fun as larger AAA titles.

Trying to explain the concept of Geometry Wars to someone will most likely make them wonder what all the fuss is about.  This is one of those games that you really have to see in action to fully appreciate.  You are in control of a small, claw-shaped spaceship and your only goal is to survive long enough to put up a highscore.  This is easier said than done with the onslaught of alien ships all out to get you, fortunately the aliens don’t shoot at you, which gives the game a bit of an Asteroids feel, but their sheer numbers, coupled with all the colorful chaos happen on screen will truly test your skill and reflexes.

Movement is handled with the left analog stick and firing with the right, which is all you need to know, before jumping in and having fun.  There is no patronizing storyline or other fluff standing between you and the action either.  This game is purely about the highscores and is not ashamed to admit it.  If you find yourself getting overwhelmed you can use one of your screen clearing bombs to create some breathing room, but doing so won’t net you points.  The game is quite daunting originally and it can be tough to get anywhere close to a good score until you are used to the concept and know what to look out for.  The enemies all have different tactics with some honing in on you directly, while others will scuttle away from your bullets and strike from behind.  One even split apart Asteroids style, but my worst nightmare is the red enemy ship that flies straight at you with shields raised.  On a crowded screen, you barely see them coming until it is too late.  You will also face red growing wells that suck in anything nearby and then explode in a shower of debris unless you destroy them.  It is often chaos happening on-screen at all times, so expect to die a lot until you learn not to blink.

While you might run into a few score ceilings that will feel like you will never break through this as one of those games you will master with practice.  There are a few achievements to aim for and for once these actually live up to their name and require real effort to achieve.  Included in the package is both the original Geometry Wars as well as the all new more colorful, evolved version.  The visuals are still just very basic vector shapes, but there is a dazzling spectrum of colors on display.  The glowing, neon shapes give the game a nice retro look with a modern edge.  The playing field is simply a rectangular grid, which is slightly larger than the viewing area, but the camera does a good job of keeping up as you maneuver around.  The way that the grid warps and ripples depending on what is happening above it is a neat visual effect, but can make the already chaotic visuals look even more cluttered.  If you blink, you can literally lose sight of your ship amongst all the colors.

If you plan on having a shot at the leaderboards, you are going to have to put in a lot of practice.  You get new bombs and ships at certain scoring intervals and your primary weapon changes after every 10 000 points.  It might feel like the first few thousand points take the longest to achieve and this is due to the multipliers.  The multiplier increases while you kill enemies without losing  a life.  This means the longer you stay alive and kill things the faster your score will climb.  Die however, and the multiplier reverts to one.  With time and practice, you will find yourself reaching scores you never thought was possible, but getting on the leaderboards is no mean feat.  There is a leaderboard for both the retro and evolved game modes, but some seriously talented players have already claimed the top spots on both with frankly unbelievable scores.

It is very hard to fault anything about Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved as it does everything it set out to do quite well.  The music is very limited and repetitive, but after playing for a while, you will hardly hear the looping techno track in any case.  If it bothers you, you can simply play your own tracks, although each enemy has its own sound effects, which you really need to pay attention to.  There is sadly no multi-player mode so you will be playing solo all the way, but even that is not so bad for a game of this type.

If you have fond memories of wasting your coins down at the Arcade while chasing highscores, then you owe it to yourself to check out this game.  In fact, download the very generous demo to fully experience what the game has to offer.  Just do not blame me if all the colors melt your eyes.

*Review originally published 2005.

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