High Score to Settle – Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

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Some games stranglehold your ability to concede, epitomizing that “just one more!” compulsion. High Score to Settle is a confession of these crippling addictions.

Has there been a greater sibling rivalry narrative than this year’s Super Bowl? The Harbough brothers, separated by one year of age, coached their respective teams for the title of  “Champion” to the tune of over a million viewers. It was a close game –– 34 to 31 –– and seniority prevailed as John, the older sibling, defeated his younger brother Jim in a game dubbed the “Harbowl”. Thanksgiving dinners will be forever awkward for the Harbough family.

I sympathize with Jim. My older brother, also named John, trumps my video game accomplishments with punishing consistency. He ‘shows me his moves’ with Captain Falcon against my Ganondorf in Super Smash Bros. Melee. He was number one on the Runner 2 Xbox 360 leaderboards for weeks even though I had a seven-day head start. Just recently, I booted up Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 to find all six of my scores toppled. Five of them mean little to me, but his high score in Pacifism, which spins around mine four times over, burns like a Harbough defeat.

In Pacifism, you control a pentagonal space ship and corral blue diamonds. They’re transfixed on the ship’s rainbow exhaust, like flies to a light bulb, following your every move. Unlike the other modes, you’re without firepower, so you maneuver through tripwire explosives in the shape of dumbbells as way of population control. Luring the tilted teal Triscuits close to these bombs is crucial due to their modest blast radius.

To make matters worse, these space weights are as lethal as the hordes of pursuing polygons, because grazing their weightless orange plates results in cosmic shipwreck. They rotate and drift in unpredictable patterns, and when they cluster together, their true evil shows as they form labyrinthine minefields. As if narrowly swerving between two tsunamis of glowing crackers, like Moses parting the Red Sea, wasn’t enough of a struggle.

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The neon splendor of it all is as hypnotic as it is deadly. Explosions are kaleidoscopic fireworks, causing the graph paper background to stretch and jiggle like a trampoline made from bungee chords. Mounds of yellow crumbs break from felled diamonds, named Geoms (or, as I call them, Ge-Noms), which boost your multiplier. Gobbling these up like an intergalactic Roomba always satisfies.

Pacifism is as colorful and distracting as an 80’s roller disco club, yet the simplistic design is the real marvel. While the lack of firepower is akin to switching from an X-wing to a Republic Cruiser, this reduction sets it apart from the other five modes. It’s the product of experimentation within the Geometry Wars design that proves less can be more. Sharp turns and manipulating enemy movement is riveting in a way shooting can’t emulate.

The intensity escalates at a brisk pace too. Diamonds spawn at the corners in pairs of three. Then four. Then it spits groups of five at a faster rate. The ranks grow, grow, and grow until outnumbering you in the hundreds. Hell, maybe even in the thousands, but it’s too nail biting to count. A moment of hesitation will topple your effort, but that’s okay, since surviving for three minutes in Pacifism is as laudable as a three-minute mile. It makes each replay promising rather than futile, feasible rather than daunting.

Pacifism’s simplicity lures me in, but eclipsing my brother’s high score, which taunts me as it dangles on the screen like a carrot tied to a stick, keeps me sedimented for hours. That’s what makes this situation different from the Harboughs –– with enough investment, I can trump John’s numerical achievement. It’s reassuring. It’s also a nightmare. Jim was bested and he can’t change that, allowing him time to reflect and bounce back. My options are surrender or stoke the flames of rivalry. The pacifist in me says give up, but this is war. The Holtbowl rages on.

My high score: 252,028,550
John’s high score: 354,112,525

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