The premise is simple: you control one small and agile ship out to destroy an ever-increasing swarm of equally speedy enemies. Sound familiar? It might be the blueprint for every shoot-'em-up ever, but Geometry Wars brings a nice twist to the table by taking a familiar game of Asteroids and slamming it repeatedly in your face.
It won't be so abusive in the beginning, of course, when everything is simple and easy. The enemies will swarm slower and you'll have every opportunity to start racking up the points, though death can still come quickly to the unaware. The minute you dive deeper into the game's admirable complexity, however, the digital gloves come off. But don't fret! Even while some of the later levels in Galaxies's impressive campaign might send you off the deep end, you'll rarely come to the point where victory seems impossible. Difficult it may be, but part of Galaxies's charm is in the way you'll often want to shrug off defeat, dive right back in, and start blowing shapes up. Fast, frantic action will do that to you, and Galaxies has all of that in colorful spades.
You'll have help with the rampant destruction courtesy of your own personal drone, one of Galaxies's innovations that proves surprisingly useful as you fight your way through the galaxy. The drone can adopt one of eight different behaviors to assist you in a number of ways, though most behaviors will first have to be unlocked. It's easy to grow attached to your friendly little shape thing as the two of you face the campaign mode's many different levels, particularly since the particular behavior you choose will gain experience and ultimately level up the more you stick with it. In true RPG fashion, some of the behaviors won't start to shine until they're leveled up enough, though even at the starting levels the different drone styles can invite notably different strategies and experiences.
Drone experience points aren't the only reason to keep playing, however. Each level offers high scores you can try to beat, with a fancy medal awarded appropriate to how high you can push the numbers. Replays also offer the opportunity collect appropriately-named geoms, little shards dropped from the countless swarm of enemies you'll plow through every level. You'll need to collect enough geoms to progress through the main Galaxies campaign, whether it's by unlocking new planets and galaxies or simply purchasing new drone styles.
If you have no need for computer companions or any of this geom nonsense, you can choose to play the Retro Evolved mode, which dumps all of Galaxies's fancy quirks for straight geometry destruction. It's a nice alternative to some of the campaign's challenges, though it does lack some of the variety -- and rewards -- that come with the main game.
No matter what mode you tackle, you'll have to contend with Galaxies's unique control scheme, a surprisingly solid alternative to the twin joystick approach its predecessors took. You'll use one hand with either the control pad or the four face buttons to move your ship, while the other hand presses the stylus around the middle of the bottom screen to determine the direction of your bullets. The combination is a bit strange at first, but give it some time and you'll be zipping around the screen much easier than you might expect. Other control schemes are available, though they frankly don't seem responsive enough to carry you through some of the more chaotic times you'll encounter.
The particular way the controls force you to hold the DS can prove problematic for long stretches of gaming, but hey -- that's not why you're reading this column, right? You want fast, fun action, ad for those short stretches on the road, Geometry Wars: Galaxies is definitely a title worth taking along. Portable chaos is always a pleasure, especially if you enjoy a good shoot-'em-up from time to time, but even those players who don't have fond memories of Asteroids should take note -- Galaxies goes for less than twenty bucks across the 'net. Considering the amount of depth in this title, I'd say that's a pretty fair price.
Ready for the stats?
Sleep time: I'm pleased to say that Galaxies does what few other titles do and actually pauses the game when you close the lid. It's a small touch, sure, but a nice one, and a godsend if you ever have to put the DS to sleep when the evil geometry are closing on your ship.
Load time: Around thirty seconds or more to jump into the Retro Revolved mode if you have to create a new profile. Galaxies mode tacks on about five more seconds to get into one of the earlier training planets. If you already have a profile, the process goes much quicker.
Play time: It depends on how skilled you are, mostly, and whether you're aiming for a high score. Players after the gold medal might want to hold off until they have the luxury of time, but anyone who's simply looking for a bit of colorful fun can probably finish in five minutes or more.
Tick tock of the clock ringing in your ears? Tell your timepiece to shove it! We live busy lives, but remember this: there's always time to game. Check back with Gaming to Go every week for the latest and greatest titles you should spend your precious few minutes with.