Despite the many classic titles that came to the console, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 may just be my favorite Xbox 360 release. I remember booting it up for the first time back in the summer of 2008, and years later, I remember wasting hours playing it in college. The simplistic, but addicting gameplay would soon serve as a template for several other developers to try their hand at the genre. Although many have failed in their bid to unseat the king, that didn’t stop Brushfire Games from trying with their latest effort, Polychromatic.
A traditional top-down, twin-stick shooter, Polychromatic focuses more on the bare essentials than some of its competitors. Players are in control of a tiny, colorful ship, and tasked with blowing up other tiny, colorful ships. Controls are predictably simple. One analog stick moves the ship, while the other analog stick shoots. Other components of the ship include a devastating bomb, which is mapped to the back triggers, and a crafty dash maneuver, which can be triggered by hitting the top bumpers.
If you’ve played any game in the genre before, you more or less know what to expect here. The only notable difference here is the dash button, which does factor into each run. Utilize the quick boost properly, and you’ll be able to skate out of a hole that really should have ended you. However, if you are not aware of your surroundings when you use it, you can easily find yourself boosting right into an enemy. It may not be the biggest change ever, but it does lead to some rather pulse-pounding moments.
Eschewing the more modern modes its competitors sport, the title does not feature a story or campaign mode of any sort. Instead, each of the three included modes is focused clearly on achieving the highest score possible. Of the three, Endless Mode is the one I spent the most time with. As the name implies, there is no time limit here, so all you need to focus on is scoring points, and avoiding death.
Timed Mode is the inverse of Endless, so while you’re still trying to rack up points, you need to do it in a set amount of time. Additional time can be accrued for successfully wiping out waves of enemies, though. Finally, One-Life Mode only grants you one life, so hopefully you’re not as careless as I am when it comes to killing.
Let me state for the record that Polychromatic is not a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination. The addicting gameplay is simple, but exhilarating in certain moments. And if nothing else, I can gloat over the fact that I destroyed the high score set by my editor. It’s a perfectly adequate experience, but that’s all it is. While there’s something to be said for being a perfectly average game in this day and age, it’s hard to stand out in the genre by being just okay. Brushfire Games doesn’t try to do anything new with the genre, and the title suffers from the fact. It doesn’t help that the game’s chief competitor, the aforementioned Geometry Wars, does everything that’s done here, but better.
What Polychromatic could have used was some type of variety in the featured game modes. When you boil it down, the three included ones are all variations of the same thing, just with differences in how many lives you have and whether there is a time limit. The recently released Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions features plenty of variety, so it would have been nice if this title even slightly approached the variety of that release.
There needs to be more of a hook than granting you the ability to dash away from the action with a quick boost. Even lesser entries in the genre, such as a title like Hexodius, has something more to it. Trying to release a retro, pure-arcade experience is a nice endeavor, but with so many other options out there, the game feels a little lacking in comparison.
The similarities between Polychromatic and Bizarre Creations’ popular release extend past the core gameplay, though. Both titles share similar colorful visuals, however, the ones featured here are a little less neon-hued. That doesn’t stop the vibrant colors of both your ship and the enemies you destroy from popping off the television screen. The added smoke effects are a nice touch, especially considering the fact that it can play a major role during each run. The sound effects and music could have used some additional work though. Nothing about the music stands out, and the only time I took notice of it, was when it would randomly cut out mid-game. Which is an odd-little glitch, and I’m not quite sure how it made it into the final product.
If Geometry Wars is the Coca Cola of the twin-stick shooter genre, than Polychromatic is the RC Cola of it. It can serve as a perfectly fine substitute if you’re in a bind, but there is clearly a difference between the real deal and the off-brand version. To break away from the strained metaphor, there’s nothing terrible about the title, and it can even be fun if you are sick of other genre stalwarts. But, by sticking with the basics of the genre only, Brushfire Games missed a chance make any sort of lasting impression. I’m not trying to slam the studio here, but with so many other options out there, it makes it hard to recommend a game that lacks substance in comparison.
This review was based off the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
Polychromatic is a perfectly competent entry into the twin-stick genre, but it lacks the depth and personality to compete with the heavy hitters.