2022 has been a bit of a gaming adventure for me. Before this year, when someone asked me if there were gaming genres I didn’t like, I’d wheel out one-on-one fighting games and shoot ’em ups. I’m still allergic to fighting games – I’m taking recommendations, people! – but I’ve done a full 180 on shoot ’em ups. The Psikyo titles re-released this year (games like Gunbird and Samurai Aces) were the trigger, as I was determined to find out what the fuss was about, and I duly found out what the fuss was about. Now, I can’t get enough of weaving through bullets, stacking on power-ups, and downing mechs that have to crouch to fit on the screen.
We were lucky to start with the Psikyo games. If we’d started with Geometric Feel the Beats, we’re convinced that things would have been very, very different. Because this is neither an emblematic shooter, nor is it any good. We’d have huffed and puffed and gone back to our first-person shooters and narrative games.
Alright, here’s the premise. You are a spaceship locked to the sides of a game screen. You can quickly jab the right-stick and lock to a different side, which might move you closer to the action. Enemies approach you, some moving like Space Invaders, others oscillating back and forth. But what makes Geometric Feel the Beats different is that those enemies are geometric shapes in different colours: squares, triangles, circles and hexagons, all glowing pink, blue, green and more.
Now, here’s the kink. You can switch your spaceship to become different colours with a tap of RT or LT. You might expect that you need to be pink to shoot pink shapes, for example, but that’s not quite true. You can shoot any coloured shape, regardless of your ship’s tint. It’s just that for the kill to count, with regard to the level’s objectives, you need to be the right colour. And you get a punishment in terms of a points reduction if you don’t.
What this tends to mean – at least in our case – is that levels involve the careful matching of colours and bullets, until we become utterly overwhelmed and then it’s a free-for-all. We’d choose any old colour, and just spray the arena with bullets, giving us some time to breathe and return to the process of switching to the right colour at the right time. It was an odd old rhythm.
Each level would task us with ten pink hexagons to hit, twenty blue triangles, and so on. So, the rain of shapes would fall down, and we’d switch and fire, switch and fire, hoping that the important shapes would turn up. And this really is where Geometric Feel the Beats falls down, because, boy oh boy, is this a recipe for monotony. We’d say that, particularly on later levels, the chances of your shape arriving on screen is one-in-twenty. You just don’t see them often. So, you’re obliterating waves of irrelevant shapes in the hope that a relevant one turns up once in a while.
Killing the wrong shapes, even when you’re doing it in the right colour, never feels good. You get some points, but those are so intangible that they get ignored. You’re drumming on the table, urging the objective-shapes to turn up, and they often don’t bother for whole minutes.
Is there a way to make the other parts of the game fun? We think so. But YAW Studios do their damnedest to avoid it. Take the game’s level of challenge, for example. You would think that hitting too many of the wrong colour, or getting hit by a shape, would be the end of the level, or at least receive a harsh punishment. But Geometric Feel the Beats mostly shrugs and lets you play on. There’s very little motivation to play correctly. We often wondered if Geometric Feel the Beats wanted us to play in a certain way. Mowing down enemies with the wrong colour, just to give us some space, never felt right, but the tiny point-based punishment implied that the developers didn’t care. Sure, go to town, they’d say.
There’s a bit of structure around the shooting that at least makes Geometric Feel the Beats conceptually interesting. New shapes and mechanics get introduced into the levels over time. Some shapes are more like enemies, firing at you (albeit ineffectively), so you have to match their colour to remove them. It’s a hint of a better game. Bosses, called Mega Geometry, appear with very specific objective requirements, but are – again – easy thanks to the lack of a failure state. And power-ups appear all too rarely, and their effects are bizarrely wide-ranging. Some Shockwave your ship, pausing you momentarily (clearly rubbish) while others turn all of the shapes into the one you want (game-changingly brilliant). There’s no inbetween.
Earn enough points and you can purchase upgrades to your ship. It’s a reason to keep your points score high, but there are significant ‘buts’ here. There are only a few to purchase, they are increasingly, ludicrously expensive, and once you unlock them, they don’t do all that much. We unlocked a little spacecraft that would crawl across the screen, dropping mines, but those mines barely ever went off, and we’re still trying to decipher what the little thing actually did. We hoped for screen-wiping laser beams, and we didn’t quite get them.
We’ve complained about everything but the basic shooter stuff. That’s because, well, it’s fine. It’s okay. The shapes are perhaps too small, and the speed of the bullets too slow (allowing the shapes to swoop out of the way), so there’s a damaging impreciseness about proceedings, but generally everything works as it should. Each shape explodes with a single hit, so you can feel like a geometric death machine on occasion. When there are a manageable number of shapes on the screen, and you get into the flow of colour-shifting, it can even be enjoyable. We just had to turn off the part of our brain that was screaming “Why?”, because none of it matters. The only thing that matters is the shapes in the top-left of the screen that form your objectives. Everything else is pointless.
Geometric Feel the Beats draws you in with promise. The pulsing soundtrack, the Tron-like visuals, the quirky colour-matching gimmickry. But it’s an anglerfish, reeling you in with pretty lights and then eating you up. Because it’s a trap: Geometric Feel the Beats is one of the dullest of dull shooters that we’ve ever encountered. Everything is boringly easy, nothing you shoot matters. It’s enough to get you questioning whether shoot ’em ups were really your thing, after all.
You can buy Geometric Feel the Beats from the Xbox Store