More fun than the Fourth of July.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was without question a great game. It revived the "one stick moves, other stick shoots" genre that had been dormant since Robotron. You controlled a ship which could move and shoot simultaneously, confined within a small box not much bigger than the screen, fighting a war against increasingly difficult and numerous geometrically shaped enemies. With its frantic pace, smooth controls, and fireworks-inspired visuals, its simple but polished design made for an enchanting, addictive, high-score chasing experience that, in retrospect, may have been the best launch title on the 360.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is such a fantastic improvement on every level that you won't go back, with even more intense and addictive gameplay than the first. You have my blessing to buy it and buy it now, but if you need more justification than superlatives (wholly deserved superlatives, mind you), read on.
With a sequel to a successful original game, there are three approaches the developers can take. For the lazy, resting-on-their-laurels developer, the cosmetic upgrade where everything runs a little better, looks a little prettier, and maybe has a few more enemies, is the road often taken. For a harder-working, if not quite as ambitious developer, evolutionary tweaks to the gameplay without changing it fundamentally are made. And occasionally, developers will make changes so revolutionary that it's like playing a new game. What makes Geometry Wars 2 brilliant is that it does all three, and all three well.
Even if this were just a cosmetic update to the previous Geometry Wars, it's unlikely that Geometry Wars 2 would be considered disappointing. The bright, neon-drenched ships are crystal clear in their definition, the colors are bright and swirling, and the shapes explode with grace. As expected, the end-game often consists of not getting taken in by the dozens of exploding and shifting colors, and concentrate on not dying; though much like fireworks, the more chaotic the action, the more beautiful the visuals.
The soundtrack has also been expanded, with a rather catchy techno-style track assigned to each of the six gameplay modes. If you don't like techno, fear not; these tracks are layered and varied, free of any sort of repetitious noises, though you will be hearing the same track every time you boot up any given mode. The sound effects aren't a noticeable upgrade, but given what they are, a smoother sounding set of old-school bleeps and bloops, they're hardly a fault.
There are a number of tweaks to the Geometry Wars formula, and all of them change it in smart, effective ways. The best of these is how score multipliers are handled. Instead of having your score multiplied automatically after a certain number of enemies you've shot down, every enemy you shoot leaves small green bits behind. Each one you collect increases your score multiplier by one, but the catch is that there are usually enemies near where these green bits are left. If you want them, you risk colliding with one of the enemy ships, but if you don't act quickly enough, they disappear within seconds.
There are a few other nice touches to the gameplay. They've added a few more enemies who all make the game harder, as most of them operate independently and aren't just chasing you around too closely. There's also a high score target via your Xbox Live friends list; whoever's score you are closest to will always be listed in the top-right corner, giving you extra motivation to improve your score. They've also rid the game of having two different shooting upgrades, which seemed to shift at random in the original game. Here, you have the consistency of having one kind of shot.
You still get the original excellent Evolved mode from the first XBLA release, but there are five new modes which are all fantastic, worthwhile, and addictive variations on the formula. "Deadline" lets you die as many times as you want while you try to rack up as high a score as possible in three minutes (though dying incurs a penalty); "Waves" literally throws walls of fast-moving ships in rapid succession at you; and "Sequence" has a difficult stage progression and challenges you to complete each level in thirty seconds.
Two modes, "King" and "Pacifism", deserve to be called out for being especially unique. In "King", you are only able to shoot while within circular zones that enemies will not be able to enter; however, once you've entered a circle, it will disappear after a few seconds. Surviving tends to get very tricky when you're faced with an overwhelming number of foes, and you have to decide quickly when and where to flee.
"Pacifism" takes away your ability to shoot entirely. Your only defense against the legions of slowly marching parallelograms are several short lines with orange markers on their ends, which when crossed, make any enemies that are close to you explode and make the line disappear. However, all of the enemies are deadly, as are the orange markers, making this mode at once totally different and equally addictive compared to anything else in Geometry Wars. You can spend hours telling yourself “just one more game”, and remarkably, that applies to all six game modes.
Multiplayer also changes the gameplay quite a bit. You're given the option to tackle any of the six modes with up to three friends in either a co-op or competitive match. It perhaps isn't quite as engaging as the single-player mode, largely because you can't chase the high score of your Xbox Live buddies and it's a whole lot easier with additional players. But the multiplayer is at its best when you're trying to outdo your buddies; these matches can get surprisingly intense. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer. It doesn't detract from the overall quality of Geometry Wars 2, but as a package, it's disappointing nonetheless.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is a fantastic way to spend your time and money. It takes everything that made the first game work upon it in every conceivable way and is a prime example of the right way to make a sequel.