Earlier this week, during a meeting with Sierra Games, we had an opportunity to spend some time playing pre-alpha versions of Geometry Wars: Galaxies for both the Wii and the DS. Both games will feature a version of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (the Xbox Live Arcade game) that has been enhanced with multiplayer features, and both will let you share that game with DS owners who have yet to invest in their own copy of Galaxies. But we concentrated on the all-new "Galaxies" content for the most part on this occasion because that's been the unknown quantity until now.
Galaxies mode is divided up into a number of different solar systems (there are at least six or seven on the map already), and each of those contains a number of planets. The solar system that we were allowed into during our demo was composed of eight planets. To give you some idea of how much new content there's going to be, if Retro Evolved were incorporated into Galaxies, it would equate to just one planet. The number of planets and solar systems that will be included in Geometry Wars: Galaxies hasn't been finalized at the time of writing, but having checked out three very different planets during our meeting, we can report that there is unlikely to be any shortage of variety.
Before we get specific about the three planets that we played on the Wii or about the different enemies and hazards that we encountered, there's one new gameplay feature that we simply have to talk about--your drone. In Galaxies mode, you'll be accompanied by an indestructible drone at all times. The drone will follow you around like a puppy as you fly around the pulsating blue grid. You'll determine its behavior and role by choosing from a number of options before the level gets underway. You'll also unlock new behavior types and the like as you progress through the game. Although we only got to see three different ones in action on this occasion, we're told that there will be "a lot" from which to choose. The basic behaviors that we experimented with were attack, which had the drone firing on the same targets that we targeted; defend, which saw the drone firing on targets automatically regardless of which direction they were in; and collect, which tasked the drone with collecting "Geoms"--the in-game currency--that many enemies drop when you destroy them. Geoms will be used to purchase new behaviors, weapons, and other drone upgrades in the finished game. We're also told that choosing the right drone setups for the right planets will be crucial if you're hoping to achieve a gold, rather than silver or bronze, medal.
The first level that we checked out, titled Enemy Storm, was played on a square grid noticeably smaller than the rectangular one seen in previous Geometry Wars games. The enemies, on the other hand, were significantly bigger and, initially, seemed oblivious to our presence. But that all changed once we opened fire and realized that the enemies on this particular planet work in much the same way as the titular asteroids in Atari's classic arcade game. Every enemy that we shot turned into two smaller ones until they got to be about the same size as our ship. Shooting them at that point caused them to explode into a dozen or so enemies that we recognized from Retro Evolved. Needless to say, the ever-increasing number of enemies coupled with the small play area made for some hectic gameplay. We found the experience quite different from playing the Xbox Live Arcade game, as well as different from what we expected.
Next up was a more familiar-looking level called Neo Classical. The playing area was the same rectangular grid used in previous games, but in amongst the usual assortment of enemies, there were a few that we didn't recognize. For example, the vivid blue "mutator" that looks like a scribble made up of perfectly straight lines was an interesting one because while it's more or less harmless on its own, it has the ability to turn every other enemy that it touches into a new, aggressive, and unpredictable enemy type. The "generator" enemies posed a new challenge as well; they're red circles that spew out more traditional enemies in huge numbers and are only vulnerable to attack when they turn blue, which isn't very often. The other new enemy that we noticed was a UFO that, like those in Asteroids or Space Invaders, will spawn quite randomly and will be worth a large number of points if you manage to shoot it before it flies off the screen.
The Orbiter level that we had a go at toward the end of our meeting will purportedly be one of the more difficult ones in Galaxies mode and is played on a relatively small hexagonal grid. The level's most distinguishing feature was a gravity well in the center that, like a plughole, caused everything in the level to spiral toward it. At regular intervals, the gravity well would go into reverse for a time, switching from counter-clockwise to clockwise and pushing everything away from it. The currents caused by the gravity well made controlling the ship quite difficult. The fact that enemies and even our bullets were affected in the same way didn't help much either.
Not to turn this preview into a list of excuses as to why our performance on the Orbiter level was less than stellar, but it also takes some getting used to the Wii game's default controls. Using the Nunchuk's analog stick to steer the craft is no different than on the Xbox 360, of course, but moving the Wii Remote to point in the direction that you want to fire in is tricky at best. A thin red line resembling a laser sight gives you an indication of which direction you're pointing in when there are no bullets flying to do that, but it's not always easy to make out. We're also told that a number of other aiming reticles and such are currently being considered.
Although it's also still very much a work in progress, the DS version of Geometry Wars: Galaxies was a lot easier to pick up than its Wii counterpart. The default control scheme has you using the D pad to steer your ship. Then you use either the four face buttons or the stylus and touch screen to fire. The buttons do a reasonable job of giving you the freedom to shoot in any direction, but they're certainly no substitute for an analog stick--not yet, anyway. Using the stylus was much easier, and although we were playing the game on the upper screen while using the touch screen to indicate our direction of fire, we're told that the finished game will give you the option to play the game on the touch screen while using the same control setup. The developers are also experimenting with different control configurations for left-handed players and might even go so far as to include an option that lets you play the game while holding the DS upside down so you can use the D pad with your right hand.
Just before our meeting came to an end, we had an opportunity to spend a few minutes playing a competitive two-player game of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. The game played out exactly like the single-player experience, except that there were two of us flying around inside the level simultaneously. And because we were both trying to kill the same enemies, there was an even greater sense of urgency than usual. In the finished game, you'll be able to customize multiplayer games by deciding how many lives or bombs each player has. For cooperative games, you'll also have the option to have both players use a shared pool of lives and bombs if you wish. Both versions of Geometry Wars: Galaxies will have at least four multiplayer modes available, one of which won't be found in the other version. One of the modes that we're most excited to find out more about is a "friend versus foe" game in which, we're led to believe, one player will control the ship as normal while the other manipulates the enemies somehow.
Both the DS and Wii versions of Geometry Wars: Galaxies will feature online leaderboards much like those on Xbox Live Arcade. Furthermore, if you own both games, you'll be able to link them and gain access to otherwise unavailable levels with their own leaderboards. Geometry Wars: Galaxies is currently scheduled for release later this year, and we look forward to bringing you more information as soon as it becomes available.