On the far end of the universe, there is Geometry Wars. It is the cold, dead space of twin-stick shooters. On the empty playing grid, your only belongings are a couple of bombs and a gun that changes firing rates ever so often, and you’re left to fight a never-ending horde of gruesome geometric shapes. Once you lose your lives, you’re finished.
In another galaxy, the rules have changed. The atmosphere is still cool, but more relaxing. The background occasionally shifts from a spacey blue to another color of the aether, and your ship along with the enemies changes as well. It’s strange, but the stars have a certain attraction to your ship when you’re charging the lasers. They hug around the ship as you unleash your fire of cold blue death, and you almost feel bad when the little candies shrivel away. They aren’t as daunting as those edged foes, but they’re just as deadly and just as unforgiving. The color-changing candy armada will you to see your end, and once you’re gone, there is coming back. You’ll just have to surrender your precious little points.
This galaxy is better known as JoyJoy, a twin-stick shooter from RadianGames. It came in sixth place for Microsoft’s Dream Build Play 2010 competition and justly so. This game is more than just a derivative of your favorite retro shooters, it’s a really fun one, and there are a handful of differences that will make the purchase even more worthwhile.
JoyJoy has a surprising amount of replay value. For something that only takes up 16 megabytes and costs 80 points, that’s an incredible value. On the glowing menu screen, there’s the traditional campaign mode where you “kill shit till you die” and a challenge mode where you complete time-based objectives in exchange for some gameplay-enhancing modifiers. For both modes, you can choose from five different difficulties, ranging from ‘Relaxed’ to ‘Expert’ and you can also enable modifiers to beef up your performance.
In campaign mode, you’ll find yourself gunning through countless numbers of “swarmers” and “shooters” as you accumulate an impressive arsenal of six weapons, weapon upgrades and armor upgrades. These swarmers and shooters are just as they sound. Swarmers are round-shaped miscreants who have no other goal but to crash into your ship, and shooters are a band of 70s-era spaceships looking to gun you down with their various missile sizes and firing rates. Both kinds of enemies will spawn at random points on the grid and demonstrate various movement patterns, some of them obvious, and some of them a little more deceptive. As the waves progress, the swarmers and shooters diversify and increase and the survival rates go way down.
But have no fear. Once your shield is completely destroyed and you’re ripped a new one, you’ll have a chance to continue from where you died, albeit without any of your points. It’s not so bad though, considering there doesn’t appear to be a leaderboard.
Once in a while, you’ll reach a special boss stage where a giant shooter will attempt to crush your soul. Most of them, if not all, look very similar, but they all have their own attack patterns. Out of the two I confronted, one of them had a thing for spinning around with a steady stream of fire and the other constantly teleported across the screen to avoid me. The bosses are definitely tough, but if you use the right weapons and maneuvers, they’ll be space junk in no time.
Possibly the best part of the game is the weapons selection. Every weapon has its own firing rate, movement pattern, and projectile size, so you’ll have to plan carefully and quickly when dealing with the impossible herd. The standard weapon shoots out a straight long-tailed beam that is good for killing individual baddies, but could never handle more than five at once. That’s when the other weapons come in handy. There’s the reflection weapon that shoots a widespread cluster of lasers which then bounce off the edges of the screen until meeting certain death. This is easily my favorite weapon and can make for a chaotic scene when you’re unleashing charged blasts every two seconds amongst an unruly horde. Thankfully, there is a charge attack for all weapons. With the slight hold of the left or right trigger, you can unleash a harsh storm of luminous genocide, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
The challenge mode will set you up against shooter-exclusive and swarmer-exclusive waves. Once you survive for the required four minutes, you’ll be rewarded with a new modifier you can activate for campaign and challenge play. Modifiers can increase your speed, fire rate and charge rate amongst other things. For some, it might make the game too easy, but for people like me, it’s nice to be able to progress further in the game and score more points.
Campaign and challenge mode both allow for a second player to join, only via the console though. There is no online play. Co-op play is nothing special, and it can actually get kind of confusing because both ships are the same color. This is especially problematic in the later waves where you can barely see anything else on the screen besides the ships and the horde. However, if you have good eyes and a big screen, co-op may provide a better experience for you.
If you’re a fan of retro-style shooters like Geometry Wars, you need to play JoyJoy. There’s no question about it. You have a hidden urge to kill abstract shapes, and you must satisfy it. Minimalistic destruction never looked better.
JoyJoy was provided for review by Radiangames. It is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 80 MS points ($1)