Top-down and side-scrolling shoot-‘em-ups have enjoyed a healthy resurgence of late thanks to a new lease of life for many classics on Wii’s Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade, but it’s not just a wave of pure nostalgia. Geometry Wars will be long remembered as one of this era’s best shooters because of its supercharged gameplay and the compulsive challenge of beating other people’s high scores around the world, an essential ingredient of many ancient arcade games.
It made such a mark that it’s little surprise to find that XG Blast closely follows the successful formula, though it replaces the stylish vector graphics with more solidly built ships and aliens. They’re not so elegant as the beautiful glowing colours of Bizarre Creations’ modern classic, but emulating graphical style would be a similarity too far.
The bulk of the single-player game lies in its Discovery mode, which is dressed in a storyline so thin that it’s only one size away from becoming a supermodel. Your ship is carrying a prototype weapon, the titular XG Blast, when it detects an identical energy signature and proceeds to investigate. The ship’s AI is unable to wake the crew from statis, leaving you to battle through a series of zones, each broken into arenas of varying shape and size and culminating in glowing bosses that shower you in a hail of shots.
The story is confined to the beginning of each zone and you can happily skip through the still images to get to the action. All you really need to know is at your fingertips – shoot anything that moves. Cliched as that may be, it’s a recipe for some damn good fun, though it’s in short supply in the first couple of zones, where enemies move at a sedate pace and almost lulled me into a sense of apathy.
It’s compounded by your ship’s two power meters – one for the shields and another for its mega-weapon – and I only felt threatened by large numbers of enemies when the meter went far below ten percent. By removing the risk of instant death, XG Blast lacks a vital aspect that made Geometry Wars such a thrilling and often panic-stricken experience.
By the time I reached the third zone, there was a sudden spike in the difficulty curve as enemies began to dart around arenas at much faster speeds. After breezing through so many arenas, the increased challenge is a bit of a shock, on top of which your limited supply of three ships becomes painfully apparent. When they run out, you’re forced to restart the current zone from the beginning and retreading old ground far too many times over.
I found myself laying the DS down because my enthusiasm was exhausted, rather than to dry off my perspiration-soaked hands or to relieve cramp. That said, the game still has that “one more go” addictiveness, but it doesn’t ooze the quality in the same way as its obvious inspiration because of the imbalanced difficulty.
Once you’ve completed an arena, it’s unlocked in Survival mode, where you can play it for as long as you’re able to survive against endless waves of enemies, racking up a huge score to earn medals. The mode is as unoriginal as the rest of XG Blast, but I’d feel short-changed if it wasn’t included.
Then there are two multiplayer modes, so with two cartridges you can battle an endless stream of enemies with a friend, while four cartridges sets you up for a deathmatch. XG Blast really needed some additional modes to put its own spin on things and set it apart from the pack.
Persistence through the early stages pays off soon enough, and the game is enjoyable enough. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t experience slowdown, which afflicts the DS version of Geometry Wars when the action gets really heavy. XG Blast is best picked up if you’re still hungry for more after nailing every one of that game’s stages.