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You may think Twin Stick Shooters (TSS) are all about reaction times, ridiculous enemy onslaughts and high scores. That's all in the mix of course, but the enduring TSS are those that somehow mainline their controls into the player's survival instinct. Geometry Wars has always had this quality - of melding man and machine - and has quickly risen in standing and popularity. Although Geometry Wars: Galaxies on the DS doesn't have the horsepower of control fidelity to replicate its big brother on the Wii, there is still a great TSS experience to be had.
There are many references for Geometry Wars' game play, dating all the way back to the old Robotron Williams arcade machine. The mathematical nature of the game is reflected in its trigonometry and descriptions thereof. You control a neon craft in a bounded playfield whilst all about you plays a host of different enemies. Each alien ship has its own flocking pattern and attack path. Through this mathematical minefield survival is the central concern, although amassing points and collecting Geomes also dominates your thoughts. The whole experience is something of a rarity - a simple well executed idea that makes the maths highly playable.
The whole experience is something of a rarity - a simple well executed idea that makes the maths highly playable.
In addition to features seen in previous outings of the series (on the 360) Galaxies provides a series of themed worlds each with their own style, enemies and distinctive play fields. It also adds a new concept: the helper drone. You choose from a family of these helpful little puppies each with a particular ability. Each different breed provides some specific assistance to your survival (defence drone), kill count (attack drone) or bonus collection (collector drone). As you use each different type they gain experience and perform more effectively in subsequent battles.
Geometry Wars was made famous by its distinctive neon retro styled visuals. Galaxies continues the family resemblance, although on the DS it does struggles at times to keep up with the rendering speed of the more substantial consoles (Wii and 360). Although things never become prohibitively slow, the reduced frame rate does break that player-game bond at inopportune moments. The suspension of disbelief has to wrestle with the jarring loss of frames. That said, this is certainly one of the more impressive looking DS games, and it is providing the same game experience, in terms of levels and enemies, as is found on the Wii.
Sound is not all about orchestral scores and big budget voice work. Accuracy and quality play just as big a part in delivering some game-side audio enjoyment. To this end, Galaxies on the DS sticks to its task admirably. The familiar tunes and effects from the series to date are joined by a host of new sounds all of which match the quality of what has gone before. However, it's not until you pop on a pair of headphones that you discover its multi-layered sound-scapes; these are so well integrated with the battle that at times they almost turn the game into more of a rhythm action experience.
Whilst the Wii version was criticised for its laggy and inaccurate Wii-mote/Nun-chuck combo; the DS doesn't have such fundamental control issues. Both stylus and button controls work pretty well. The problem here however is not one poor control scheme (compensated by the introduction of the Classic Controller) it is rather two mediocre methods. We spent considerable time switching from touch screen to buttons, unsure of which we preferred. Ultimately we found both to be adequate, but neither to really shine. This wouldn't have been such an issue on less demanding games. But Galaxies' exacting play requires pin-point analogue controls that the DS is imply unable to furnish.
It falls short of being a great Twin Stick Shotter due to its mediocre controls (and lack of twin sicks).
Although Galaxies takes its roots from the hardest of the hardcore shooters, it does a good job of easing the uninitiated into the nuances of its varied worlds. The introduction of the different unlockable galaxies enables the game to control the difficultly ramp, and remove some of those controller-destroyingly-frustrating difficulty spikes from the overall progression.
The progression continues by enabling players to improve more effectively; thus equipping themselves for those all important multiplayer battles. These are always frantic and enable players to team up against the onslaught, or to face-off against each other. Strangely though, we found ourselves locked in much looser multiplayer concerns. The online scoreboard enables many high-score battles to rage amongst your group of friends; something that continues a long tradition from the persistent Robotron high score tables of the 90's to Xbox Live smack talk high score chat of more recent years.
Whilst Geometry Wars: Galaxies on the DS does a stalwart job of delivering an experience that hangs on player reaction times, ridiculous enemy onslaughts and drives plenty of high score chasing, it falls short of being a great TSS due to its mediocre controls (and lack of twin sicks). As we have said, this would be less problematic in other games, but in Galaxies we were unable to get comfortable with the schemes on offer. Overall, regardless of the great visuals and audio work, it was ultimately an experience that never quite got off the ground.
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