Geometry Wars: Galaxies Review (DS)

Geometry Wars is something of a cult classic.† Most people think that Geometry Wars started life as a downloadable game for the XBOX 360, but in actual fact it started life much sooner than that, as a mini-game in Project Gotham Racing 2 of all places.† It is the XBOX Live Arcade download, though, that turned this excellent retro-esque shooter into a cult classic, and now it finds its way on to the DS and to a much wider, more casual gaming audience.

When I first heard that Geometry Wars was coming to the DS my immediate concerns were how they were going to get this frenetic shooter to work on such a tiny screen and whether the touch-screen controls would improve or break the gameplay.† Those concerns have turned out to be unfounded though, as while the touch-screen controls donít improve the experience (more on that later), nor do they ruin it, and the tiny screen has proven to be more than adequate. †

The attack of the whirling pink fans
This is even more frantic than it looks

For those of you that are not familiar with Geometry Wars Retro Evolved on the XBOX 360, let me explain the basic concept.† You, as a tiny spaceship, fly around one level destroying other geometrically shaped enemy ships, lasting as long as you can and achieving the highest score possible until you lose all of your lives.† Itís very similar in many ways to Asteroids, with slightly more visual flair, a variety of different enemies and much faster, more hectic gameplay.† In short itís a fantastic game that, despite costing around the same amount of money as a pint and a packet of crisps on the XBOX 360, and going up against many AAA titles, still remains one of the greatest games on that console.

The DS version does very little to change the basic core gameplay of the XBOX 360 title and rightfully so.† If it works, why fix it?† What it does do is add a new gameplay option called Galaxies, a plethora of new enemies and, obviously, a new control method, while also retaining the ĎRetro Evolvedí mode from the XBOX 360.† Instead of lasting for as long as you can on one level, Galaxies has you doing that on 60 different levels, each with a slightly different level design (some more radically so) and a variety of enemy onslaughts.† The objective always remains the same: to score as many points as possible (or at least enough to obtain a Gold) until you run out of lives, but the amount of lives and smart bombs you start with can differ between levels.

Collecting Geoms (the games currency of sorts) from shot-down enemies not only multiplies your score (up to a maximum of 150x) but also provides you with the means to upgrade your drone.† Collecting the Geoms makes your drone much more proficient and also enables you to purchase different types, enabling you to choose the right one for any particular level (and obtaining the Gold on some levels does become much easier depending on the drone you are using).† I must admit to not being a huge fan of the drones, because they seem to make the game much harder for players just starting out than those that have put in the hours where the drones have been automatically upgrading themselves along the way, regardless of the playerís skill level.† Sometimes earning a Gold that youíve slogged hard to achieve over the past few hours feels less like a reward for your improving ability and more due to the fact that the drone is now so proficient after numerous upgrades.

Smart bomb, use the smart bomb!!!
You call that a high score?

Obtaining the Gold awards can be tricky, but it has to be said that the new control system has made Geometry Wars slightly easier on the DS than on the more hardcore XBOX 360 version.† Playing with dual analogue control always presented the player with the risk of not quite having the analogue stick in the exact direction of the enemy flying towards you and required very precise skill in order to survive for more than a few minutes.† Flying and firing in exactly the same direction was a skill that needed developing and honing constantly.† However on the DS the touch-screen and digital control pad makes it arguably much easier to hit the exact location of the enemy on-screen and fly and shoot in the same direction.

Whether you think that this is a good thing or not depends on how much you like to be tested.† I, for instance, still prefer the XBOX 360 analogue control and the risk/reward that comes with that.† However I can see many more casual gamers becoming much less frustrated with the DS control system.† One thing that isnít open for debate though is how much more painful the DS control system is.† Holding the DS with the left hand, pressing the thumb of the left hand on the D-Pad and then moving the stylus frantically across the screen with the right hand, whilst having the left trigger finger twitching over the left shoulder button, introduces a lot of pain on the wrists, thumbs and fingers; so much so that anything near an hours play is likely to leave your hands feeling crippled for the rest of the day.† Itís not really the developerís fault, in fact Kuju have done wonders with the conversion, but it is worth noting and taking into account.

Elsewhere the only other gripe with the game is the slowdown that happens far too frequently and obviously does have an impact on the gameplay.† At times the pace slows down to merely a few frames per second, which gives the player a massive advantage considering that the only time this happens is when the screen is filled with enemies.† Itís almost harder to die with loads of enemies on screen than it is with very few, due to the drop in pace.† Again though, some might actually see this as more of a positive than a negative, as it does provide more of an opportunity to survive and go for the higher scores.† You can bet your bottom dollar that those people wonít be huge shoot-em-up fans though.

Gah the green squares of doom.
Are we stretching out these screenshots a bit now do you think?

Despite all the negativity mentioned, Geometry Wars Galaxies is still one of the best DS games available, and certainly the best shoot-em-up on the handheld.† Its transition from 360 to DS has lost very little (and gained much more) and it comes highly recommended as a must-have purchase.† The negatives will annoy some more than others, the slowdown and hand-cramp certainly got on my nerves after a few hours play, but it still didnít stop me putting in more hours than I needed to in order to review the game.† In the space of only a few days, Iíve amassed a total of 17 hours playtime, much more than was required for the review.† Iíd still out of choice play the 360 version, but I canít take the 360 with me on the bus or play it on the sofa whilst the wife is watching an episode of Eastenders. †

And finally for all of those reviewers out there even questioning the cost difference between the DS and the 360 version, kindly think about taking up another career.† The cost of producing a cart, packaging, manual and distribution costs are much higher than making a game available for download.† Youíre also getting new game modes, wireless multiplayer (a first for Geometry Wars) and a different gameplay experience due to the control system.† Itís also completely unrelated as a lot of DS owners wonít have a 360 and therefore will have no option of purchasing that version.† Itís only £24.99 (and already much cheaper than that in most places) and itís one of the best DS games available with plenty of content to keep you playing for hours.† If thatís not value for money, I really donít know what is.

Top game moment: Continually improving on a high score and each time thinking that the new one is unbeatable.


By JamieSI (SI Core) on Feb 29, 2008
Great game, highly recommend this one! :)