The best Xbox 360 game isn't actually BioShock or Halo or Mass Effect 2 — it's something a whole lot simpler. Geometry Wars, and its excellent sequel, were pure, amazing arcade games that turned high-score-chasing into something wonderful. It was like the whole 3D game thing was just a fad, and these simple, ridiculously fast shooters were what games were meant to be. With Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions, the series has lost some of that purity, thanks to two significant additions: three-dimensional levels and a challenging campaign, which make the game simultaneously refreshing and frustrating.
The basics of the game remain unchanged. You pilot a tiny ship that looks like a claw, and you need to blow up everything in sight. The Geometry Wars games are twin-stick shooters, which means you use the left stick to navigate and the right one to fire in all directions. It's a set-up that's been used countless times before, but Geometry Wars always set itself apart with tight controls, fun power-ups, and insane, enemy-filled levels. That all remains true in Dimensions (the game even includes the helpful drones from the Galaxies spin-offs, which can help you fight bad guys or collect items).
It can feel like you're fighting battles on a disco ball
What's new — and what gives the game its subtitle — are levels that are more than just flat, 2D rectangles. Battlegrounds are now spheres, cubes, pill-shaped cylinders, and more. When combined with the series' trademark neon graphics and thumping electronic music, it can feel like you're fighting battles on a disco ball in the middle of the rave. The change is actually reminiscent of the gravity-defying tracks of Mario Kart 8: it switches things up just enough to make it feel new, but without hurting the core experience the series is known for. And the new levels do change up the strategy quite a bit. In a round level, for instance, your bullets can go around curves to hit enemies off-screen, but those enemies can also appear as if from nowhere. I typically play Geometry Wars by hugging the walls, so enemies can only come from one direction, but that's not really possible when there are no walls.
Dimensions explores this idea over a 50-level-long campaign, though chances are you won't see it all for some time. Not only is the game really hard — including boss battles, which are new to the series — but it also uses a frustrating system that forces you to replay old levels to unlock new ones. You know how in every mobile game you can get up to three stars on a level? Dimensions does that too, and you'll need to score relatively well, since later levels are blocked off until you get enough stars. I'm a capable (if not amazing) Geometry Wars player, and I found it hard to even get two stars on some of the tougher stages. The result is a lot of replaying levels, trying to get more stars. And since Dimensions' most interesting new level designs are in the campaign, things can get really tedious, really fast.
Things can get really tedious, really fast
Thankfully, there's still the classic Geometry Wars experience outside of the campaign. The arcade mode lets you play a number of different game types, all in pursuit of nothing more than a high score (and leaderboard bragging rights). Sometimes you're trying to get that score within a specific time frame, other times you only have a single life to get it done. Then there are the more playful modes, like the amazing Pacifism, which tasks you with lasting as long as possible without actually firing a weapon.
These modes are the ones you remember, and they're still great. Unfortunately, they don't really make use of the cool 3D level designs, which are the best new addition to the game. Instead, these great new stages are only available in the needlessly annoying campaign — Dimensions' best feature is trapped under its worst.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is available today on the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam.