Let's get something straight before we launch into the review proper: Geometry Wars: Galaxies is not a relaxing, calming handheld game that'll help eradicate the day's stress on the commute home like some virtual masseuse. Oh no. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
Galaxies won't be a DS game you'll see advertised on the London Underground either. If you haven't had the chance to enjoy the delightful transport experience that is the Tube in recent months, let me enlighten you. The Nintendo DS is advertised in almost every carriage, targeting the casual audience the Japanese console maker has so phenomenally entranced in recent years with posters depicting smiling, successful twenty-something women and middle-aged men playing Nintendogs, Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training and, well, you get the idea. They read something like this: "Solve a mystery in LA on the tube to Baker St". The posters and the smiley happy people in them remind me of something Tyler Durden said in cult smash-em-up flick Fight Club while reading an aeroplane emergency instruction card: "Calm as Hundu cows".
Which brings me on to Geometry Wars: Galaxies. It's a simple top-down survive-a-thon shooter but it'll have your face and wrist muscles twisting themselves into such complex knots that world famous rubber-face Jim Carey, if he happened to be sitting opposite you on the Tube, would start taking notes. You see, there's a lot happening on screen. A hell of a lot. Galaxies can get a little crazy.
This isn't surprising considering the premise of the game: to survive as long as you possibly can and score as many points as possible while ever increasing numbers of neon-coloured enemies appear in the rectangular battlefield. If these geometrically shaped enemies so much as touch you, you lose a life. Luckily enough, you have a defence - well, two defences really. You can move to avoid them within the confines of the level area, and you can fire a handy laser.
Like many arcade-style games, Galaxies lives and dies not on how elaborate its graphics are, but how fun it is to play. And Galaxies is indeed fun, in short bursts. But it could very well have been fun in long bursts if it hadn't been for the ever so slightly awkward control scheme that gave me hand cramp after a while and never made me feel that I was "one" with my geometric Pacman-esque craft.
Saying this, developer Kuju Entertainment, of Battalion Wars fame, has done a good job of fusing the Geometry Wars franchise with the DS' stylus controls. You move your craft with the D-Pad and control the direction of fire with the stylus, constantly dragging it around a representation of your craft on the bottom screen.
This would be fine if you didn't have to keep one finger on a shoulder button for quick bomb firing. Like I said, things can get a little crazy, so you need a finger primed to unleash a screen-clearing bomb at all times. For me, this meant that I had to hold the DS in an awkward fashion, with my right hand controlling the stylus, my left hand holding the DS, my thumb on the D-Pad and a finger on the left shoulder button. Arthritis here we come.
I tried messing about with the settings, switching the screens, using the stylus for movement and the D-Pad for directing fire, and I even tried it with settings for a left hander on, but none felt right. Ah well, I don't have that much time on the morning commute anyway.
Moving your craft with the D-Pad feels a little sluggish. You've only got eight-way movement of course, unlike the analogue control you have with other versions. But the effect is compounded by a feeling that Galaxies has been slowed down slightly for the DS. Indeed, when the screen starts to fill with shapes and your trigger-finger is working that laser hard the game struggles to the point where it suffers from a degree of slowdown. Overall, the control scheme is such that if you're making a choice between Galaxies on the Wii and DS, we'd say go with the Wii version.
Galaxies, which is in fact the follow-up to the never-ending Xbox LIVE Arcade title Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, itself the follow-up to the Bizarre Creations developed PGR2 mini-game Geometry Wars, expands on its predecessors by adding new enemies, a galaxy of solar systems each with a number of planets that act as varied levels, useful upgradeable drones that fulfil a number of roles such as attack, defend and snipe, and Geoms, an in-game currency dropped by destroyed enemies which you can spend to unlock further drones and new levels.
Is this enough to justify a purchase if you've already got Retro Evolved? In our opinion yes, just, and despite the fact that Galaxies comes with the Retro Evolved version of Geometry Wars built in. Should you be interested if you played and didn't like Retro Evolved? In our opinion, no. Despite the Geoms changing the way you play the game by forcing you to brave their collection in the midst of enemies, Galaxies doesn't revolutionise the series, it evolves it.
Geometry Wars' multiplayer offering feels a little tacked on (although you only need one copy of the game). You've got the rather poor versus mode, where one player controls the ship and the other dishes out the enemies, the much better cooperative mode, where you both control ships and share the fight to survive, and the best of the lot, simultaneous mode, which is a battle for the most points. Hugely disappointing is the complete lack of an online mode. Ah well, at least there are online leaderboards, which is still pretty impressive for a DS title.
None of these flaws make Galaxies a poor game. Far from it. It's addictive, well executed, has a degree of charm which is difficult to pin down and has a pulsing, electro soundtrack that'll leave you itching to hit the clubs. Well, once you survive the tube journey home that is. And at £19.99 it's one of the best-value games on the DS. Perhaps Nintendo should consider advertising Galaxies on the Underground. "Give yourself a heart attack on the tube to Oxford Circus"...