Version tested: DS
I write with my left hand. Not that I ever write, really, apart from scrawling names on padded envelopes containing Christmas presents that I was too busy or drunk to send. It's one of the poetically enjoyable things about The Future; writing is only necessary when I let things slip into The Past. Anyway, writing with my left hand singled me out for abuse from craggy old Mrs. Alexander when I was 10, so I hardly miss it, or being called "Smudgie", but it wasn't until I picked up the DS version of Geometry Wars: Galaxies that the shame and humiliation of my genetic predisposition toward being a wrongbrain redoubled its attack on my aspirations. Basically, I cannot play this game with the stylus because my remaining right hand is not programmed to operate a spaceship's directional movement.
In theory, and according to people on the Internet even in practice, Kuju's stylus-and-directional-pad solution to moving a spaceship around the screen and firing in another direction works brilliantly. There's a learning curve for people brought up on shoot-'em-ups that use a pair of analog sticks, but that's to be expected - buying a DS version of a two-stick shooter and complaining that it's different would be like hauling your skis from the snow to a lake and then complaining that you can't throw snowballs or dress up like a tea cosy and that it's wet. You're wet.
So, your ship appears in the top screen's gamespace, and, while using the d-pad (righties) or face buttons (lefties) to manoeuvre it, your writing hand prods or scrubs the stylus around a ship-shaped centrepiece on the touch-screen to send bullets in the direction of your choosing. Tap left of the ship and it fires left. Etc. The lack of tactile feedback about stylus position from the touch-screen surface can lead to minor mishaps - as it was all the way back with Super Mario 64 DS, you may remember - but as with much in life this can be overcome by behaving more assertively.
What can't be overcome - and I've tried so hard - is the left-hander problem of reprogramming your brain to point accurately and comfortably with the right hand. Think about all the games you've played, lefties; your left thumb has done the movement, hasn't it? You will presently discover that your right thumb is a poor substitute. But it will have to do, because trying to use the stylus with the right hand is even less effective. In other words, I am fundamentally flawed. Woe is me. Except, good news! Because you can just control the game using the d-pad for movement and the face buttons for firing. Phew. This renders most of the text so far redundant, but given that probably you're reading this at work I suppose it's a sensation into which you've learned to slip comfortably and so will continue.
However you choose to play Geometry Wars: Galaxies, it will be time that you reflect on fondly. Built upon the same premise as the Xbox Live Arcade game that won it most attention (and indeed the unlockable arcade extra bundled with PGR2), Galaxies involves shooting little geometric shapes as they zoom around your little C-shaped spacecraft using the afore-thoroughly-mentioned control scheme. If things get hectic, you can deploy a smartbomb by pressing one of the shoulder buttons, which blows everything up within a certain radius. You only get a few of those, and a few lives, but the longer you survive and the more damage you do, the more replacements you're awarded. On 360 there was a beautiful, undulating background that helped put on an amazing display for onlookers; the DS game understandably lacks that, but it's graphically consistent with its maker and fairly handsome in its own way.
However, where Galaxies deviates most from Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved - which is actually included here too, although we'll come to that in a bit - is that it is no longer one big last-as-long-as-you-can game designed to be played over and over again until your high score is higher than your friend's. Instead, a single-player Galaxies mode offers 60 varyingly distinct miniature scenarios where conditions are altered. For a start, you're forever collecting "geoms" - little enemy drops that add up to a heightened multiplier (up to 150x) and act as currency for unlocking new star systems on the Galaxies mode map, and for other things, the shape of the play area may be different, there may be a swirling permanent vortex in the centre that affects everything's gravity, only certain types of enemy may spawn, or the game may deploy some of the new enemies it has invented. Each level has its own identity.
This is all jolly good. Geometry Wars was lovely anyway for a lot of reasons, but one of the most powerful ones was the quality of its enemies - little shapes whose particular movement and attack patterns, though simple, quickly transformed each encounter into an anthropomorphic tale where the poor, stupid little diamonds were sent out to be slaughtered by the snarling squares-with-Xs-in that spit swirling mini-enemy venom even in death. For me anyway. You may just have admired the enormous variety their collaborative deployments produced and how much you had to learn to keep staying alive. So, having more types of enemies: good.
Mostly, anyway. Galaxies presents a few novel scenarios, but in its more diluted state it has less character than Retro Evolved. You still take great pleasure carving paths of desperation and survival through packed screens, and there are some clever conceits - enemies that can move out of harm's way outside the screen boundary and enemies that need to be broken down many times over, among those that spring to mind - but individual levels drag on in a way that the core Retro Evolved game didn't. You won't survive forever, but sometimes - millions of points beyond the Gold medal requirement, and I'm not the Retro Evolved megastar you might imagine, by any stretch - you do start to think about flying a bit too close to that vortex, or not paying too much attention to where you're flying. Dark thoughts for any shmup.
Is it easier, then? On a few levels, yes. An underrated element of Being Good At Geometry Wars is being able to fly and fire in exactly the same direction. Not as easy as you would think on an analog stick, but quite as easy as you would think on a pair of digital d-pads where up is completely and utterly up. The firing arc doesn't snap to new directions instantly, so on-screen the effect is analoggy, but when it needs to be it's as straight as an arrow, since that's what you're pushing. This has subtler effects, too - for instance, the green squares-with-diamonds-in will dodge away from bullets that fly to either side of them, but won't move for direct hits - much easier to achieve on the DS. There's also something about the way your aiming adjusts between compass points that makes it easier to sweep greenies against the side and kill them. Also helpful is the DS' inability to completely handle all the processing going on behind the scenes; the slowdown you experience when things become hectic, as they so often do, softens the demands on your reactions, allowing you to survive where often you would not.
Even so, Galaxies mode is a fun few minutes every time you go on the bus or during ad-breaks, and a good deal longer initially. Beyond that, Retro Evolved is Retro Evolved with the same differences, and where you can see less of the screen than you can on Xbox 360. The benchmark test is how my DS score relates to my 360 one; well, I beat it in one go, which says it all. But there will be those who found the 360 game too punishing who find that oddly alluring, and while the proper multiplayer bits of Galaxies on DS lack Internet play through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, leaderboards will hook you up to the rest of the globe to help compare performance. Woo!
But wait, multiplayer bits? Yes indeed! Best of all, you can do them with one cartridge (although they don't advertise this very well - you have to "game share" the Retro Evolved demo to the other player in order to facilitate this, rather than relying on the Multiplayer menu). There's Retro Evolved co-operative play, where you work towards one score, and this presents all sorts of new challenges (developing new strategies for certain enemies is paramount - blowing up a pink square-with-cross-in-it near your friend might spit mini-squares in their face, for instance - whoops!), and the competitive modes - Simultaneous and Versus, to give them their real names - are also enjoyable. The former is a straightforward who-can-score-more where each of you plays your own game, but Versus is the more delightful: a game where player 1 plays while player 2 uses a custom stylus interface to deposit a rapidly replenishing stock of enemies on the other one's screen. Detailing the intricacies at work here would take ages, so I'll simply say that it has the same kind of long-term appeal as the oft-ignored asymmetrical multiplayer element of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and is therefore lovely.
Overall though, Galaxies DS will prove hard to rate accurately, full as it is of little quirks and counter-quirks that will have a different impact from player to player. It also probably needs to be put into the context of its big brother on Wii, so it's a pity we can't do that yet because (are you ready to step behind the curtain?) Ellie has the Wii debug system at the moment, she lives miles away, and I'm obviously not letting her review it. The main points of distinction are that the Wii has a wacky magic wand thing for pointing - hence the need to address that separately, probably while standing up - and that you can hook the games up to one another to unlock an additional set of levels in each. For now then, 8/10, because between Galaxies' moreish every-ad-break appeal, Retro Evolved's continued brilliance, the control system's effectiveness and the well-thought-out multiplayer modes, it's ever so nearly excellent. Unlike the inside of my stupid head.
8 / 10