It had been hard for me to appreciate what the huge appeal of the classic arcade games were. I indulged in a little bit of Pacman or Donkey Kong every now and then, I even enjoyed Space Invaders when I had nothing better to do, but seeing as my first foray into video-gaming was with Super Mario Bros. on the NES I can see now I was spoiled from the start. I just couldn’t understand what attracted Matthew Broderick to the arcades day after day, or why George Costanza harboured an obsession with Frogger. In all honesty, I just put it down to the suspicion that there weren’t any better games programmed yet. I certainly respected these early games as the front-runners to a medium that would consume my childhood, but their sheer simplicity and repetitive actions made me weary as to how much enjoyment I would get out of them.
Enter Geometry Wars: Galaxies on the Nintendo Wii, with their forward-thinking hardware coupled with past-appreciating gameplay, to help force me to rethink my stance.
Originally created as a bonus feature in the Xbox game Project Gotham Racing 2, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was such a pure gaming experience that, for a time, it was the most downloaded game on Xbox Live Arcade. Developers Bizarre Creations had put together a uniquely simple space blaster straight out of the arcades of the early eighties. To put it simply, Geometry Wars looked like Asteroids and played like Smash TV. You were a tiny, line-drawn spaceship that flew around a field marked with a grid over a constellation of stars as wave after wave of simple shaped enemies spawned and attempted to kill you. Luckily, you were equipped with a laser to defend yourself against the ever-increasing enemy tirade and given three bombs to completely empty the field if it all got too much.
That’s essentially it. The very definition of simple, yet addictive like you wouldn’t believe. As the player you were very aware how much programming effort had gone into perfecting the controls and balancing the enemy swarm levels. Effort was not wasted on graphics. While the game had incredibly beautiful graphics (colourful lines and dots exploded at every possible opportunity, plus a breathtaking warping effect of the grid and surroundings), they were simply vector graphics not 3D models. In this age when graphics seem more important to players than gameplay, it’s clear to see why Geometry Wars had to start as a minigame to prove itself first.
Since then Geometry Wars has expanded to the PC, the mobile phone (Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved Mobile), and finally to Geometry Wars: Galaxies on the Wii, which is where I was introduced to it. Released in November 2007, Galaxies took the simplicity of the original and added concepts to make it worthy of a stand-alone console game price. There were now galaxies to progress through and, based on the player’s high score, medals were awarded. The control system used the joystick on the nunchuck to pilot your ship while the wii-mote pointed to aim the lasers. Different enemies were included — for instance there was the Gravity Wells (a red circle) that when shot would suck other enemies and the player’s ship into its centre until destroyed. Plus the player was given a little “drone”, a square with a dot in it, that revolved around the player’s spacecraft helping out in a variety of ways. The drone could help attack, sweep around the ship destroying enemies like a force field, or even venture out on its own collecting items for you.
A game of this intensity I hadn’t experienced since my obsession with Smash TV on the NES. Yet the vector graphics served as a reminder of the time before I had begun playing — the time of arcade machines. Finally, I felt I understood. I understood the mind cleansing experience of the repetitive actions when instinct kicks in. I understood the importance of toppling the high score just to have my name at the top of the scoreboard. Every time my little war torn spacecraft flew head-on into a polygon enemy, all I wanted to do is insert another coin and start over.