Geometry Wars: Galaxies Wii Review
It's been two years since the Xbox 360 launched, and one of its most addictive downloadable games was this little title called Geometry Wars from Bizarre Creations, developers of the Project Gotham Racing series. This little arcade style shooter had two gameplay modes with online leaderboards, but no multiplayer action and not a huge variation in the things thrown at the player once you got past a couple of million points. Still, for five bucks, it was an incredible game and really showed off the clarity of an HDTV if you had one, and it did actually toss in some impressive special effects as your shots would warp the blue lattice-like background.
Now, Vivendi has released Kuju Entertainment's follow-up, Geometry Wars: Galaxies. The game has moved from the 360 over to the Nintendo Wii and DS, however, and while the games are largely similar, you'll find out quickly that the controls are quite different. Let's focus on the Wii version for this review.
The first thing you might wonder is how Galaxies controls, since the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo doesn't have the pair of analog sticks that were used in the original game. Kuju's solution was fairly simple: you point at the screen with the Wiimote to shoot in that direction, and control your ship's movement with the Nunchuk's analog stick. So far so good, but the controls do require some getting used to. It's not just that you're now pointing at the screen to shoot, but it's also that if your ship gets near the edge of the screen, you'll need to adjust your aim in order to keep firing in the same direction. This caused me a lot of deaths early on, but eventually I got used to doing it. At the very least, the game does give you both an on-screen cursor as well as a "laser" that shows the exact angle of your shots.
There's also the Classic Controller which you can plug in if you simply must have the dual-analog control scheme. It works exactly as you probably expect, and while I don't think it's a must that you run out and buy a Classic Controller if you want to enjoy Galaxies at all, it does help if you're really used to the dual-stick scheme. What I don't like is the fact that GameCube controllers don't work with Galaxies at all, even though they have the two required analog sticks, so there's no hope of using your old hardware and saving your money that otherwise has to get spent on a Classic Controller or two.
But let's get into the actual game. First, there is a version of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on here which mimics the 360 version pretty closely, but the meat of the game is in the new Galaxies mode where you get to choose stages, earn "Geoms" to unlock new star systems with each planet acting like a new level, and fight against all kinds of new enemies and obstacles. Some of the stages have large areas for you to fight in, while others will be shaped strangely or have extra walls - even ones that move around - in order to block you. There are new enemies to fight that the game will slowly introduce, some of which can actually travel outside of the playable area and can only be shot when they come inside.
The new enemies are a good complement to the original ones, some of which have been retuned. For example, the black holes have a stronger gravitational pull, while the snake-like enemies seem a little easier to kill. The green enemies that dodge your fire are even more evasive now, while the other new enemies will force you to change your strategy on dealing with the original ones. The only real annoyance I found with all this is that for the stages where you can be blocked in the middle of the playable area, the enemies can just pass right through these spaces to get to you. In this case, I think these levels would be more fun and satisfying if most of your enemies had to follow the same rules that you do.
Cooperative action for two players is in, and it's really pretty fun. Not only can you play the original Retro Evolved, but you can also go through the whole Galaxies game together. The strategy changes a lot in this mode, and since you run off of a shared pool of both your lives and the and the bombs you can use to clear the screen of enemies (very useful when you make a mistake and were about to die otherwise), you'll need to have roughly similar skill levels to really enjoy it. Well, there's also the option of sticking together and having the better play cover the worse one, but in my experience that strategy didn't get us very far.
One unique thing about the Galaxies mode is that the multipliers have totally changed. Now, when you kill enemies they leave behind these little powerups, and each one you pick up increases your multiplier (rather than having your multiplier go up just by shooting enemies). The maximum multiplier is now 150x, which does seem like it would take a while to get to, but with the huge waves of stuff that come at you, it can happen pretty quickly in the more brutal stages. And you don't have to run right over them either, as your ship will pull them in once you get close. It does mean that your tactics will have to change, as maximizing your score means going over to where you've killed stuff to turn up your multiplier.
Another new addition is the Battle Drone, a little AI-controlled buddy that can't die and always follows you around to help kill stuff. He can be leveled up as you beat more levels and get better scores, and can also have new attack styles unlocked that allow him to play more defensively, assist you, or kill stuff on his own. This adds a bit of RPG flavor to the game, as your own ship or shots do not improve like this, and is just a pleasant addition. The drone is never really a source of satisfaction or frustration, and just about the only complaint I can level at it is that with the non-HD 480p graphics, the drones and new multiplier pickups add a lot of clutter to already chaotic screens full of enemies, new levels, and tons of bullets flying.
The online features in Galaxies really only consist of the scoreboards, which is unfortunate as there are still so few games that have any real online play on the Wii. The offline one-on-one versus play is fun for a little while, but it's the regular Galaxies mode that is the deepest part of the game. It will last you quite a while and the game ramps up the difficulty quickly; you'll find that if you were unable to get the 250,000 point achievement or better on Retro Evolved on the Xbox 360, then you will probably have a lot of trouble getting past the second system here. If you're fantastically bad at the original, well, this game isn't going to make it any easier on you.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is about as good a sequel as we can get to what originally was a bonus mini-game in Project Gotham Racing and then eventually a downloadable $5 game. While the $40 price tag is lower than many first-run Wii games, some will still find issue with the fact that this is just the same game with some new stuff thrown in. But it is a lot of new stuff, so if you had fun with Retro Evolved, this one is probably worth it. The loss of HD is regrettable, but at the very least the special effects are still as flashy and bright as ever on the Wii. Forty bucks may seem like a lot, but Galaxies is a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you've got a buddy and a pair of Classic Controllers already - or the dedication to the Wiimote/Nunchuk scheme.
The fun of the original is all here
New enemies and stages fit in nicely
Cooperative play is smooth
Non-HD graphics on the Wii feel like a step down
Must buy Classic Controllers for old control scheme
No online play, just leaderboards
Price may seem high after playing the $5 original