For those among you who are fond of arcade classics such as Robotron 2084, you might have heard of a little title called Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. It was one of the first premier downloadable titles for the Xbox 360, and was later expanded with the Wii/DS-exclusive Geometry Wars: Galaxies created by British game developer Kuju (now known as Headstrong). The original certainly provided plenty bang for one's buck, but it begs the question whether a full retail - and consequently more expensive - release is worth the while.
If you've played titles like Robotron or Smash Up TV before you'll feel instantly at home in Galaxies. Moving your ship while independently firing in another direction is a staple of those games, making them quite accessible but tough to master. As a pure arcade title it comes as no surprise that your goal is to achieve the highest score possible as you're continually assaulted from all directions by increasingly tougher and more numerous enemy drones. Adding to the frenzy is all the pretty and plentiful particle effects that make it ever more difficult to distinguish foe from background effects: this is one hectic game and an epileptic's nightmare. We wouldn't have it any other way.
At the start of the game you are greeted with an overview of the galaxy, containing a healthy helping of solar systems (curiously named galaxies) with a varying number of planets. It's quite easy to tell from here that Galaxies has much more variety going on for it than the single-stage-based Retro Evolved. While the game has 64 different stages - seven of which are only unlockable by linking the DS and Wii title - no two are alike. Some may share similar mechanics and all have the same goal, but they're all unique in offering arenas of various shapes and sizes and differing waves of enemies: there are maze-like stages, black holes that affect your and your enemies movements, crisscrossing meteor showers on top of your usual adversaries, teleporters, mine-laying drones whose loads only damage your enemies, stages that restrict you to a single life and no bombs, etc. While not all of them are created equal, you're bound to find some favorites in the lot, ensuring that gameplay will remain varied.
In any case, you only have access to the few planets within the first solar system as you begin. To unlock more systems and planets you will need to collect geoms. This currency left behind by deceased foes also determines your multiplier in a given stage, up to 150. It does create a different dynamic in contrast to RE, in which a determined number of kills awarded multipliers, in that you might have to be a bit more reckless to build up your multiplier as the pieces of geoms vanish again after a moment. Should you die you'll have to start again at zero.
To help you stay alive as long as possible you are given three screen-clearing bombs, more of which can be earned in most stages as you keep blasting enemies apart. This time around you also have a helper drone to make life a little easier. It can be set to one of eight different settings, which has to be chosen before entering a stage: it can attack in the same direction as you, defend your rear by shooting behind you, collect geoms, snipe enemies, sweep around your ship creating a protective shield, ram other drones, setup as a temporary turret blasting away in a sweeping 360 motion, or act as bait to draw away enemies from you. In its initial form your helper drone will seem about next to useless, but the more a specific ability is used - its gained experience is based on time spent in a stage - it will slowly level up becoming critical for you to maximize your high score for any of the stages. While some of your drone's behaviours are only helpful in certain stages, they do offer enough variety to suit your playing style. Just be prepared for it to take a while before you have all of them maxed out.
In effort to further your high scores (and geom count) you can earn medals for each stage by meeting a specific score. Gold medals, especially in later stages, are sure to offer quite the challenge. As you chase new high scores you can also compare your latest and greatest on the local score board which includes up to three different profiles. In addition, you're able to upload your scores to an online leaderboard where you'll be awed by the top players' skill.
Should you have a Classic Controller on hand you'll be able to play the game arcade-style: the left thumbstick moves your ship, while the right one chooses your line of fire. For those without, the game is still very playable with the Nunchuk and Wii Remote combo: the Nunchuk stick provides movement, while your Wii Remote's IR determines your shot. To support your aim you can use a combination of either an IR line or a reticule or a combination of both. Both control methods work extremely well, and it really comes down to user preference. We found to prefer the latter control for its more accurate aim.
While overall the colors in Galaxies may seem a bit subdued in contrast to the Xbox 360 original - easily fixed by turning up the color ratio on your TV - there has been relatively little change in the title's move to Wii, as the staple particle effects are all present to offer the series' trademark visual mayhem. No matter how chaotic the game gets or how many drones are chasing your tail, Galaxies keeps running smooth as butter. Although there are no distorted sound effects as in the Xbox 360 version, the audio department still is very much solid and the thumping tracks keep things energetic. It's great being able to discern which group of enemies just spawned as each has its own corresponding sound, although it does drown out a bit once hundreds of drones are bearing down on you.
Galaxies does have a local only two-player mode in which you can fight together, sharing bombs, lives, and high score, or play against one another for the highest score. It can offer quite a good time, but, ultimately, Galaxies is still very much a single-player oriented game, so consider the multiplayer an added bonus. Speaking of which, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, which can be accessed from the main menu, comes included with Galaxies, and also features an online leaderboard. Lastly, you can download a demo version of RE to your DS and see for yourself how much less stellar the DS game is.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is a great little arcade title that harkens back to the heyday of the video game boom, bringing with it classic gameplay, snazzy visuals, and a bundle of fun. You certainly shouldn't miss out on this commonly overlooked version, especially considering you'll be able to play the original as well. Its original price point of $40 may have been only worthy to arcade shooter fans such as ourselves, but new copies of Galaxies are still readily available for the current bargain price of $20 (with a similar price point in the UK). You'd do yourself a great disservice by not picking this one up.