Geometry Wars returns, but without the original developer and plenty of changes which alter the basic formula, rendering this sequel almost unidentifiable.
If Geometry Wars has its own parallel universe, the only words spoken by the population are algebraic: Perpendicular, angular, triangles, isosceles – all referenced in a nightmarish seventh grade tutoring session.
Everything is mathematical in Geometry Wars. Attack lines, shapes, patterns, strategies. So much is happening, the twin stick stick shooter bleeds controlled chaos. Its religion is a score.
Seeing this former Microsoft-exclusive take off and branch onto other consoles has been odd. Born via a Project Gotham Racing controller test, Geometry Wars always maintained it’s Microsoft-ness. No, not the Halo or Gears of War branch, rather the cleverness of oft-considered Windows-linked Minesweeper or their modern mobile word tactician games such as Wordament. These comparisons may seem odd, yet Geometry Wars demands the same cunning, intensive focus.
And then Dimensions happened, robbing Geometry Wars of its plain arcade innocence. It is both a response to the litany of twin stick shooters and an update to the Nintendo platform’s Geometry Wars Galaxies. It feels uncomfortable and crowded.
Pieces remain. Classic modes are cordoned off in home screen menus with their tension-building leaderboards. Three lives, one life, time based; they exist in their purity on the side, with clashing neons testing the upper peaks of contrast while blasting out particle effects in rhythmic beauty. In motion, few games are so devilishly lush.
Regardless of changes, the aesthetic has never dimmed, no matter how many are “inspired” by its contemporary retro visage. Core shape hunting is handled via adventure mode, with concurrent stages spewing brainy challenges and quirks. Moving platforms, bosses, spheres, searing edges, ammunition restrictions – those are only a few of the breaks from the traditional gung-ho flatness. Leaderboards exist here too, but off the rails of leveled play.
Collecting squirrelly Geoms brings in weapon support systems, building a miniature arsenal which diminishes purity… if still making for demanding fun.
Nano Stardust Assault with Geometry
Geometry Wars 3 begins to ask how far is too far removed from intent. Once backed by pure black backgrounds to imitate the density of arcade-dom’s early CRT screens, Dimensions now exists in a psychedelic trance with whirling colors, and in front sits the bleak grid (or sphere, or pill, or other shapes). Two-dimensional movement is shattered by flipping partitions, blinding to the typical full screen orientation. Hiding image parts in mystery feels dishonest and falsely imposing. But, it’s an ancient entertainment adage: Keep it fresh, keep it new.
Geometry Wars could only keep its score-based restraint beholden to itself for two sequels. Competition has fiercely drawn closer, from Finnish Housemarque’s Super Stardust to Germany’s Shin’en with Nano Assault. This formula has been bent, twisted, and reformatted. Bowing to those successors has, in some way, turned Geometry Wars against its own nature. Its identity of being carefully minimalist has been stolen, and in turn Dimensions becomes gullible, sucked into progress which, for Geometry Wars, isn’t necessarily good or true to itself. Dimensions goes so far as to include team-based PvP online multiplayer. Clever as they are in design application (modes borrow from flag capture structures and boss battles), this is proof of how desperate the series has become to innovate without subtlety.
Bizzare Creations’ Stephen Cakebread did not return for Dimensions. Neither did bass-heavy aural composers Audioantics. For both, this was their first leave of development absence. The change is obvious. Note that it’s not the change itself: Geometry Wars 3 is still marvelous and splendid with what it has. The hook created through scores, leveling, and ever-climbing numbers are spectacular. But the core, the soul, and the personality has been squished. It’s a body only identifiable by trapezoid-shaped dental records surrounded by chalk lines formed like a hexagon.