I’ve always been addicted to Geometry Wars in all its forms and hold up Retro Evolved 2 as my favourite twin-stick shooter. Bizarre Creations showed how to get the perfect mix, with tight controls, enemy variety and lip-bitingly tight spaces to squeeze your ship through. It’s fair to say that every GW clone that has been released since then has each fallen wide of the mark. Whether it was the pace of movement, the connection between finger, stick and ship or the design of the fighters, there’s never been a similarly-designed game that’s been able to replicate the raw thrill of Geometry Wars.
I was therefore ready to be disappointed with Grid Space Shooter. Xbox Live Indie Games have been a real mixed bag – with a few notable exceptions, it’s not been the hive of quality that was promised at the beginning. There have been a fair number of moves to cover GW’s bases, neon lines attempting to hide the lack of inspiration in design. My expectations were low.
What a beautiful surprise, then, to wade into Grid Space Shooter only to find it’s tight, frenetic and beautiful. After a gentle tutorial to cover the basics – ship choices, special weapons, controls – it’s into the first level of a series that quickly ups the ante. Enemy ship designs are distinct and varied, each having an unique look that quickly becomes synonymous with their movements and quirks. From tiny pulsing globes to giant motherships (and even something that looks like Ghostbusters’ Slimer with a shield and sword), it’s a real treat to see so many enemies on screen without performance taking any kind of hit. As the levels unfold, new weapons and power-ups appear (both for you and your enemies), until the screen is a bleeding tangle of lasers and danger.
The barrage of weapons is where Grid Space Shooter makes itself distinct from all the twin-stick shooters that have come before, even from Geometry Wars. It’s clear that bullet hell games such as Ikaruga have had an equal impact in design, as the higher levels need pixel-perfect manoeuvring skills to stay alive. It’s a testament to GSS that this never feels unfair or unresponsive, with control of your ship feeling incredibly tight yet free and glossy. Weapons come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, each with a tangible impact as they hit. My favourite is the Microwave gun. Oh yes.
Alongside the regular mode is an Arcade option that is purely about highscores on a table, perfect for a friendly rivalry. However, past the one-upmanship there’s even a two-player co-op option in the main game, screen split down the middle for maximum destruction. It’s all such an attractive package and, for just 80MSP, it’s an absolute steal.
Highly recommended, then. It doesn’t carry the immediacy of Geometry Wars’ shorter, more focused gameplay, but Grid Space Shooter brings to the table enough variety, style and prolonged excitement to actually threaten the template. Fire up the Xbox, treat yourself, and go find the Microwave gun.