It’s not Geometry Wars! The Xbox’s twin-stick shooter, ‘Geometry Wars’, started something (besides making plagiarising Eugene Jarvis’s seminal Robotron acceptable). It showed that retro could be pretty, beguiling – nay, even sexy.
Spirit, by Marco Mazzoli continues this trend. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this was Geometry Wars.
- Black background? Check.
- Deforming gridded play-area? Check.
- Neon palette? Check.
- Vector-styled graphics? Check.
- Randomised waves of enemies? Check.
- Gutteral, particle-filled death animation? Check.
So far, so very, very familiar.
But that’s where it ends, for in Spirit your primary activity is drawing, not shooting.
Your little Eve-inspired ship appears in the middle of the screen which slowly fills with enemies.
As you move you leave a small distortion field and subtle trail behind you. If you make a loop you’ll cause a little rift in space to open up sucking all enemies within its borders into oblivion. The rift remains on screen for some time, allowing you to drop rifts in front of enemies as well as simply creating one around them.
You gain bonuses for collecting several enemies in one go, or for looping an enemy before the previous loop has fully dissipated, making score-bolstering combos possible.
The waves are heavily randomised, so you’ll face different enemies and attack patterns if you play several games in a row. There are several different types of enemy: some drift randomly, some actively seek you out, some stick to grid-lines and others appear as part of a geometric attack group like a phalanx or circle, and some shoot back.
Every so often you’ll encounter a bonus wave where, for example you gain points for killing red enemies and lose points for killing yellow ones.
Sometimes you’ll come across a tiny version of yourself tethered to another enemy. If you kill the enemy without flushing the mini-you, you’ll be able to pick up the latter for an extra life.
Collide with an enemy and you lose a life.
Many early waves are defeated by simplty drawing a massive loop around the screen, making the waves almost pointless. Once edge-hugging enemies appear this ploy stops working and the game gets a lot harder.
While games have to end some time, I can’t help thinking that this is one game that would have benefited from re-thinking the old ‘collision=death’ mechanic. Once the enemies get more numerous the difficulty spikes alarmingly and it’s easy to lose all your lives in the space of around 20 seconds.
Unlike most games of its type, Spirit does not give you a soft-joystick to fumble with, but instead uses a curious ‘relative’ movement system. Effectively, the whole screen is one big joystick. If you find your thumb is occluding your view of the game, you can shift your finger-position to a different part of the screen without breaking your flow.
The experience is incredibly fluid and seamless. It just feels right, and no amount of screen-shots can do it justice.
And that’s it – that’s all you do in Spirit. No secondary shooting mechanic. No tilt/shake weapon or other distraction.
Though the style is borrowed from another game, it has been borrowed very well. The look demands the author to provide a lot of movement on-screen to add interest and Spirit does this is spades. The deforming grid ebbs and ripples, making the game feel more like it is set underwater than in space. The rifts pulse and throb beautifully as they slowly shrink down to nothing. And everything glows. It makes me want to get out my old roll-sleeved suit and listen to the Miami Vice theme.
Overall – it’s really very pretty and kinetic, if not original.
The sound consists of some melancholic down-tempo synth music and the appropriate ’80s-inspired effects. The mood evoked is suitably dark and sinister; the spirits of Robotron and Defender are definitely present in the sound design, and this is a good thing.
Spirit takes the good parts of other games, adds a dash of its own originality and wraps this all up in a very attractive little package. At $0.99 it’s a steal… but expect some frustration as the difficulty spike prods your sensitive bits and makes wish you hadn’t had that third espresso.
Available on iTunes for $0.99 (iTunes Link)