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Released in 2005, the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved could be considered a proficiency test in game playing skills, challenging players with the very essence of high-end gaming. At its core, Geometry Wars is a manic, dual-stick shooter that favors the quick and the coordinated, making short work of those with low response mechanisms. It also confronts players with their ability to overcome an epileptic fit (as cautioned in game manuals everywhere), bombarding them with more colors than a Norwegian laser rave.

As such, your Geometry Wars score may very well be a direct reflection of how proficient you are in your favorite hobby. That said, you’ll be thrilled to hear that its sequel, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, is much more accessible.

No longer content with simply dumping you into the middle of a colorful, geometric nightmare, the developers at Bizarre Creations have expanded upon the original formula, streamlining and implementing the best elements from their previous efforts while tossing in a few new ideas as well. The result is a game broken into six distinct gametypes that are carefully doled out over the course of about an hour’s worth of play. The progressive nature of GW2 quickly becomes one of its most compelling elements, easing newcomers into the fold while teaching all the elements of the game within a brief, entertaining space of time.

The core of the experience has been greatly improved for long-time fans as well, particularly the skilled. Small, collectible dots called “Geoms” have returned from the Nintendo-only Geometry Wars: Galaxies and are here to serve two purposes: to raise your score multiplier and in turn, increase the difficulty. Essentially, the faster you destroy enemies, the more quickly you can get to the good stuff, eliminating the slow burn of starting over anew, waiting until you hit your first million points for things to get interesting again, as was the case in the original Geometry Wars. Other changes under the hood include keeping your score multiplier upon death, a new spawning method that makes it much less likely for fresh enemies to appear on your ship (killing you instantly, I might add) and of course, brand new shapes to throw fits over.

Your tour of the grid begins with Deadline, which couldn’t possibly be more of a riff of last year’s Pac-Man Championship Edition unless it were to change your ship into the ghost-devouring beast himself. With three minutes and infinite lives to rack up the highest score possible, Deadline represents both a teaching environment to new players and the ultimate torture test for Geometry Wars veterans. This bite sized version of the classic gameplay sounds brilliant on paper — and it is — until these three minutes become a mobius strip of high scores and curse words that leads long into the night.

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King provides the next challenge as it features a constantly respawning set of collapsing zones that act as safe areas throughout the field, keeping enemies at bay. They’re also, cruelly enough, the only place where your weapons function, leaving you completely defenseless once outside the protective zones. The notion being that while it’s relatively easy to stay alive, playing it safe won’t net you as many Geoms which in turn, will seriously dampen your score.

The appropriately named Evolved mode follows and as one would expect, it closely resembles the original’s free form style. Admittedly, this is the least interesting of the bunch, but it’s also the only place to see exactly how intense the game can get over the course of a few million points.

Inspired by an achievement from the original title, Pacifism strips you of your weapons, confines you to a much smaller field and makes your only way to retaliate against an endless wave of blue triangles to pass through energy gates that destroy all nearby enemies. Afterwards, it’s on to Waves, where one must surf, squeeze and generally survive an increasingly dangerous onslaught of omnidirectional missiles, just like the version of Geometry Wars found within Bizarre’s other series, Project Gotham Racing.

Finally, Sequence provides the only level-based gametype, challenging players to reach the end of a 20 round gauntlet, with a mere 30 seconds to complete each section. Each of these games can be played with up to four players in both competitive and co-operative settings, but only locally. No online pew-pew for you, a fact that Bizarre Creations blames on latency being absolutely detrimental to the experience. I can respect that and after playing multiplayer Geometry Wars, I feel that it’s best left a single player experience anyway. Competitive King makes for a compelling argument as a party game, but there’s nothing here that can compare to running the grid into the millions all your own.

The inclusion of scoreboards built directly into the menus and in-game interface is as brilliant as it is completely diabolical. The original Geometry Wars was often praised for its ability to get folks comparing high scores like the 80’s never went out of style, but this time around it’s impossible to avoid. Next to each and every gametype are the top five scores of your friends, just sitting there, waiting to be crushed. This continues into the game where the top score amongst your friends is posted in the top-right corner and is updated on the fly should that record be shattered. It’s a beautiful thing, really, and one that I wish more games of this type would adopt.

Bottom Line: This is the dual-stick shooter polished to perfection. Players of all different types and skill levels are bound to find a game to fall in love with amongst the six available and for the competitive folks like myself, the leaderboard implementation is enough to keep you going for months.

Verdict: An absolute must-have for Xbox 360 owners. Even if you don’t think you’d enjoy this type of game, trying out the free demo wouldn’t hurt.

Jared Rea is actually an unlockable character in Street Fighter IV. True story. He is joined by his unnaturally fluffy dog, Queen Momo XI. Assist, OK!

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