Waste Your Weekend: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 (XBLA)

System: Xbox Live Arcade (Xbox 360), Players: 1-4 (local), ESRB: Everyone, Current price: 800 MSP

The first Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was at one point the most downloaded game on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). It featured a tight, dual-stick control scheme where you moved with the left joystick and shot with the right, trying to take down ever-increasing waves of enemies. The sequel expands dramatically on this formula, keeping the simple dual-stick shooter mechanics while adding five new game modes and local multiplayer.

The basic goal of every game mode is to score the most points. To score points you have to defeat enemies, and to score more points you have to pick up the “geoms” that drop after enemies are killed to increase your multiplier. Once you gather up enough geoms you start really racking up a score.

Geoms: Those little pellety-lookin’ things. Basically Wheaties for your score.

The game modes themselves are pretty varied. Deadline gives you three minutes and unlimited lives to score as many points as you can. Evolved takes away the time limit but leaves you with only three lives, with the chance to earn more as you go. King is a one-life game where you beeline towards protective circular “hills” that quickly disappear, leaving you unable to shoot and vulnerable to the growing number of enemies previously held at bay. Waves gives you one life and has waves of enemies appearing  from the corners and the sides of the map. Sequence features twenty levels of 30-second predetermined patterns of enemies but only a limited number of lives. Pacifism leaves you with one life, no weapon, and a ton of enemies that you have to defeat by flying through exploding gates. Every mode has a distinct flavor to it, so there’s plenty here to keep you busy.

On to the meat:

The Good:
Keepin’ it Simple: Geometry wars has three controls: move, shoot, and nuke the hell out of everything on the screen. Really, it’s that easy. Well, when you have a couple hundred enemies bearing down on you it seems more like a barrel o’ napalm than a piece o’ cake, but with modes like Deadline even a non-gamer can pick up a controller for a few minutes of infinite-lives fun.

New Game Modes: Pacifism. I have spent literal days of my life playing Pacifism. Somehow simplifying the controls of an already simple game made it even better. And whenever I get bored of or need a break from Pacifism, there are five other modes for me to turn to.

Pacifism: You will die. A lot. And love it.

Fun, addictive gameplay: This is the ultimate “just one more round” game. You will find yourself picking up the controller for a quick game only to break out of a game-fueled trance two hours later wondering what the hell happened to your day. The constant ability to somehow just squeak through a closing hole in the enemy ranks leaves you with a rush most games can only dream of providing.

Leaderboards: The glory of beating your friend’s ridiculous score on the leaderboards, sending out a mass message proclaiming your victory, and seeing your friends list light up with people trying to regain the top spot again. Seriously, get your friends to get this game. Then beat the living daylights out of them.

The Bad:
No Online Multiplayer: The highlight of this game is trying to beat your friends on the leaderboards, but the multiplayer is fun too. Making it local multiplayer only was a serious flaw in judgement.

The Meh:
Less focus: The original game was admittedly deeper than any of the new modes in Geometry Wars 2, but the variety here definitely makes up for it.

Trippy Visuals: Maybe it’s just because I’m colorblind, but I occasionally lose myself in the colorful explosions, leaving me angry in real life and dead in the game. On the other hand, this wouldn’t be Geometry Wars without the awesome, pulsating bursts of color. And they look real purty.

Can you find the spaceship in this picture?

The Achievements:
No one reviews achievements, which is a shame. Achievements are fun! I’m going to review them from now on. Geometry wars has above-average achievements, but nothing to write home about. They require you to play in ways you wouldn’t normally, which I always consider a good thing. For the most part, they are a nice challenge without being too hard, although Smile will destroy you.

The Verdict:
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 was one of the first games I bought on XBLA, and it is one of the few games I still play over a year after its purchase. This is one game that everyone should have. It’s fun, addictive, and doesn’t require a huge time commitment, although it’s definitely one of those games you will get sucked into if you don’t watch yourself. The six game modes are different enough that if you ever get tired of one you can switch to another. The best part of this game is the constant battle for the top spot in the leaderboards, so make sure your friends have a copy also.

Final Ruling: Get it.

Fun Fact:
The original Geometry Wars was accidentally created during the final days of development on Project Gotham Racing 2. Stephen “Cakey” Cakebread built a basic dual-stick shooter as a demo to test some new joypad code he had been working on, but people around the office loved it so much that he eventually turned his demo into a full-fledged mini-game, available in the garage in PGR2.

In the “Waste Your Weekend” series I’ll pick a game that can be beaten without investing too much time – but also one that will have you ignoring your friends and quite possibly your meals while you are playing through it.