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With its Topaz boss, Geometry Wars 3 comes alive in the strangest way

Shooty and Sweep.

For a game I didn't think I was particularly taken with, I've certainly spent a lot of time playing Geometry Wars 3. Mostly, I've been replaying the Topaz boss, also known as level 50. This one's a brittle jeweled cauliflower like the other bosses, but it's also a fascinating and exhausting piece of wave design that shows this strange game off at its best.

And perhaps its worst - but here's the thing: at its worst, Geometry Wars 3 becomes properly fascinating. Not only does Lucid's run at the series put an emphasis on drones, a bad idea inherited from previous Geometry Wars off-shoots that allow you to unlock a secondary craft to spin about helping out in a variety of ways, the last drone you unlock is the Sweep drone, and the Sweep drone is semi-broken in the most interesting way.

The Sweep drone's big idea is that it whirls around you like an orbiting shield of death. There are gaps in the shield, because the drone has to hit an enemy to take it out, but the gaps are pretty small, since the drone is extremely fast. What I've realised recently is that, if you park yourself in a corner, the gaps disappear almost entirely, because this speedy drone is left patrolling a 45 degree field, whomping back and forth like a disco windscreen wiper, and nothing - well, only the very very fastest of those orange or rhubarb-coloured guys, and even they have to be feeling extremely lucky - can get past him at all.

This is super interesting if you play a lot of twin-stick shooters. Not least because, in certain circumstances, it effectively kills off the move part of the whole move-and-shoot idea. Beyond that, in most twin-sticks, the corners of the arena are the absolute deadliest parts, because they're the parts where the swarm can block you in, multiplying quicker than you can shoot a fresh channel through them to escape. To provide a cheesing opportunity in this exact location is just perverse.

Geometry Wars 3 has benefited from a generous post-release update that has added new stages and tweaked progression - nice one!

With Topaz, it all gets a little weirder. Topaz goes through a number of waves, and occasionally erects shield walls around itself that block all incoming fire. For the most part, though, it just throws a lot of stuff at you. An awful lot of stuff. So much, in fact, that relying on the Sweep exploit, despite its 95 percent success rate, has started to feel like a bizarre act of bravery.

Or rather, that missing five percent turns it into an act of faith, and I don't generally tend to think about faith very much in a game like Geometry Wars. Here's where the faith comes in: I think I am pretty certain that almost no enemies can get through the windscreen wipers of death if I have parked myself in a corner, but the sheer numbers that Topaz musters make me doubt myself. When I hunker back there and the enemies get swatted away as I calmly pick my targets, I'm not actually calm at all inside: I'm starting to lose my nerve. I'm starting to suspect that my calculations might be wrong.

Beyond that, I've noticed something even more interesting. The best Geometry Wars enemy - and hence my absolute least favourite - is the green square, the opportunist, the coward, that leaps away from your shots and only attacks when your back is turned. For some reason I can no longer reverse-engineer, in my house we have taken to calling this one Popcorn Boy. I love Popcorn Boy because that scurrying backwards move gives his behaviour a weirdly human tilt: I have started to imagine that Popcorn Boy is not the bully of the pack, but the bully's crap best friend who is all front. With my cheesing strategy, however, this behaviour of Popcorn Boy's also creates a strange outcome: he homes in on me en masse, because that is what he does, but he also doesn't get chewed up by the Sweep as frequently as everything else, because lurking just out of harm's way is also what he does. What this means for Topaz is that, while I cheese the boss right the way down to the very late form where the entire outside of the grid becomes deadly and I have to then move from my spot and play like a normal human being, the Popcorn Boys are just gathering: up-close enough to be a problem, but not up-close enough to have their ranks significantly thinned. The more I cheat, the more I am constructing a veritable bait-ball of trouble for myself.

Emergent surprises like this are the reason I play twin-sticks in the first place. I'm not much of a score-chaser. In truth I approach blasters as a sort of ludic naturalist, a crap digital Darwin looking for the bizarre, the unlikely, the strange yet logical outcomes that can initially seem plain crazy. This is the stuff that I didn't really think Geometry Wars 3 had in it, due to its relentless foregrounding of wave-based design and - highly entertaining - gimmickry. In truth, it was always there - I just had to wait for the mask to slip a little.