The similarities between Debris Infinity and Geometry Wars are purely superficial.  Find out why this game needs to be in your icon collection right meow.

Kick over a digital garbage can and a vector-style twin stick shooter will fall out.  One that is inevitably compared to the original mini-game Geometry Wars; found inside the OG Xbox game Project Gotham Racing 2.

The Original Twin Stick Vector Shooter (courtesy worldofstuart.excellentcontent.com)

Along with several official versions spanning almost every gaming system out there, dozens of knock-offs (real and imaginary) have come and gone; many of which I have personally recommended to players as they have taken the concept to a deeper level.  The very clean Inferno 2 was one such game available on Android devices.

Inferno 2 from Radiangames on Android

A system that didn’t have one of these vibrant, colorful blast-fests was the new Nintendo Switch – despite that Geometry Wars itself has been around on Android (Switch shares it’s main processor – the Tergra X1 – with NVidia’s Shield TV Android device) forever.

Fortunately, it has one now – coming in a budget-friendly package called Debris Infinity available as a digital purchase from the Nintendo eShop for $4.99 (at the time of writing). The game comes to us via Spain-based developer SVC Games as their first game on the latest Nintendo hardware (the game is also available as an Early Access title on Steam for PC).

The Vector Twin Stick Shooter

For those of you living under a rock or for some reason only play space-marine first person shooters – the vector twin stick shooter is a genre all of its own.

As all genre-based games tend to do, they all share some common elements of play.  Let’s run through the list:

  • Glowing line (vector) graphics
  • Move with one stick in any direction, fire with the other stick in any direction
  • Fast, frantic and addictive game play
  • Tons of high score chasing potential
  • Multiple modes of play
  • Incentives not to die (multipliers, bonuses, etc.)

From there, the features start to change – but most share the above list.

Where Geometry Wars and its many clones use the basic “survive and score” methodology (and there is nothing wrong that) – sometimes the molds get broken and something fresh and new comes out of it.

First Impressions

Firing up Debris Infinity for the first time, you are immediately aware that this isn’t a “nindie cash grab” budget title.  From the first prompt and into the title screen you are treated to a very polished, fresh interface that shows the developer really spent the time to create a crisp, clean experience.  While not unheard of in the Nindie universe – many budget/independent games with good game play suffer from plain or even non-existent user interface experiences.

The game feels like a stylized trip back to the 1990s with the 3D rendered lettering (remember Lightwave?) and smooth transitions.  The arcade feel is fully realized when the first content that comes up is a high score table sweetly scrolled into view.

We haven’t gotten into the game yet and already it feels like a quality title.

Even the voice over work (provided by developer’s girlfriend Alejandra Castanedo – don’t you read the credits?  I do …) is spot on, adding a feeling of 90s arcade love with a dash of “engrish” feeling on some of the phrases.

The menu tells us that we have both a one and two player option and selecting the former offers us three modes of play; Time Attack, Normal and Power Wave.  We’ll address each of these as we go along.

Enough modes to keep things interesting – not too many to overwhelm you.

Unlike the psychologically-researched dopamine receptor nonsense found in modern “free to play” games, Debris Infinity keeps it real by poking your need to be better than everyone else (including yourself since the last high score you achieved).  Immediate feedback on your score and worldwide rankings are presented before you play – giving you your goal up front.

Since it looks like Geometry Wars initially, you may be inclined to jump in and get playing right away – and you can do that.  But once you realize that your score kinda sucks compared to everyone else’s – you may want to take a trip to the tutorial section and learn how this game is more a “thinking man’s game”.

 Alright, since you’re probably not going to go look at it – let me talk about it here.

The Tutorial

The first tutorial screens discuss the basics of the twin stick shooter – move in any direction and fire in any other direction.  A real bonus here is that the developer shows all different controller types and how to adapt each of them to the twin stick motif (even when playing with a single joycon).

Your first deviation from Geometry Wars is the Temporal Anomaly.  This is a slow down mode – giving you some breathing space (this is typically the right bumper).

Next you learn about Quantic Explosion (aka Smart Bomb; left bumper).  This needs very little explanation – but it is worth noting that Temporal Anomaly and Quantic Explosion share an Energy Bar (the left half of the circle that surrounds your ship).

Even if you don’t have enough energy for a bomb, you can still use slow down

Combos are a mainstay of twin stick shooters.  The next screen tells you about the meter on the left.  As you kill and kill again before the bar depletes, you will gain combos.  The higher the combo, the more subsequent kills are worth.  Once you hit 100 combos, enemies are worth 100% more – 200 combos, worth 200% more … you get the idea.  Again, not much new here, but you have to be cognizant of it.  In short, combo level makes enemies base value worth more.

Next up – streaks.  As you kill without being hit, a bar charges on the right.  Get hit?  The bar decreases.  When it hits the top?  You get another notch up from x1 to x2 to x3, etc.  This increases the score multiplier overall.  This applies ON TOP of the combo bonus above.  Using these two together is necessary to rack up the big scores.

Not enough?  How about a reflex bonus?  If you destroy enemies quickly as they appear – you’ll get a bonus multiplier on top of everything else.  The longer they live after appearing – the lower the multiplier.

The smart player may wonder what the bar is on the top right.  This is a chain bonus.  If you kill four enemies of the same color in a row, you get some energy back (energy drives bombs, slow down power).  If you get these consecutively, you’ll charge up the chain bar.  Once that fills, you get a special weapon or more shield (the left half of the orb around your ship).

Confused yet?  I know – it is a lot to process; but it takes Debris Infinity from a generic clone to a much deeper game.  Review the tutorial a couple of times and apply to your game play and you will be on board in no time.

The Modes

Some of these games overload you with different modes to play.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.  But there is a point where there are so many modes that only a few are really worth playing and the others are just plain filler.  Debris Infinity has just three modes of play; Normal, Time Attack and Power Wave.

Normal Mode. This is the standard mode of play.  You play until your shield is fully depleted – and you die.  When you collide with enemies, you lose shield.  Straight forward.

Time Attack.   Get the highest score you can within three minutes.  The time is not selective as it is on other games (such as one minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, etc).  You may be confused to see your “shield” bar going down while playing – but if you look carefully, “shield” has been replaced with “time”.  As your time decreases, so does the bar.  The rest of the game scoring and rules behave the same.  Note: It sounds great that you can get hit all  you want without dying; but that multiplier bar isn’t going up and that will cost you.

Power Wave.  Wave after wave of enemies come at you.  A timer in the form of gradient circle within your ship’s shield/energy orb counts down until you clear the wave – at which point time is added to the balance of time you had left.  You’ll see more diverse enemies faster playing this mode.

Each mode has its own leaderboards so it gives you three methods of exerting your dominance. 🙂

The modes are diverse enough to make each one feel distinct and offer up a little something different.  

Multiplayer

Few vector twin stick shooters offer up a multiplayer mode.  Debris Infinity offers two modes of play – and you can use whatever controller combination you can cobble together to play them.

Co-op Mode

In a rather strange mode (which would be great as a centerpiece to a cooperation seminar for corporate coworkers) one player will take control of the movement and Temporal Anomaly – the other will take the role of “gunner”; shooting and using the explosive power of the Quantic Explosion.

The actual game modes remain the same – you can play Time Attack, Normal or Power Wave in this configuration.

This is as awkward as it sounds.  If you want to make two people learn to work together to accomplish a task?  Make them play this.

If you’re the gunner and using a joycon?  Put it in your RIGHT hand.  It will make it tolerable.

Competitive Mode

Here is what you really want to play.

Both players have their own controls and both are on the screen at the same time – fighting for points.  Tons of fun – frantic as hell.

Unfortunately there is no online play – so this is “couch competition” only.

Watch my son and I play the two modes.

Anything wrong with it?

No game is perfect – and Debris Infinity is no exception.

As a high score chasing game, leaderboards and competitive play are top priority (well, aside from the game being fun as hell – which it is).  Most of the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed here – but there is a huge omission; friend leaderboards.

Competition within my peer group is savage – and while there is no reason you can’t see everyone on the leaderboards, the ability to quickly see how you stack up to your friends is important.  Zen’s PinballFX3 offers a feature where it will notify you as you overtake players’ scores on your friend’s list during play.  It would be fantastic to see an option to see – in real time – how close you are to beating the pants off your buddies.

The multiplayer co-op mode is an interesting addition, but unfortunately it isn’t all that practical once the novelty of fighting the controls between the two of you wears off.  What we need here is another co-op mode where you play just like competitive – but your score is cumulative.  You could add some little challenges in there to keep things fresh (say, put two pickups on the screen – make each player tag one in sequence to complete a little mini-quest for a point boost or something) – add a little reward for playing nice together.

One of the greatest things about the Nintendo Switch is the fine precision vibration system (aka HD Rumble).  This game makes zero use of it.  Much like games of old when vibration was just a gimmick – this game just triggers a hit of vibration when you’re struck by something.  Reminds me of playing with the Nintendo DS’s “rumble pack” – on or off; and when on, it is too strong.  Intensity based on the type of hit, vibrations based on direction of hit – some easy wins on using the system’s unique feature.  Note: you can turn it off completely in the options, but what fun is that?

Finally, there is a double edged sword to discuss.  The overwhelming preponderance of stats and data.  Everywhere you look (including around the ship itself) there is stuff – gauges, values, scores and more.  These shooters are intense – and while I simply LOVE a huge amount of data available, sometimes I just want to be in “the zone” … zen.  I can’t be zen with the ship’s stats covering my view.  Or having grids and gauges distracting me.  Sometimes?  I just want to shoot stuff – tell me how I did when it is over.

There is a LOT of information going on here … A LOT …

Final Words

Listen, if you’re still reading this review instead of buying, downloading and playing this game?  I have failed to impart how much I love it.

It is easy to pass off my excitement about this game as merely a lack of selection – after all, there aren’t any other vector-based twin stick shooters to pick from.

Truth is?  A couple niggles aside, this is one great game.  The price is right, the play is solid, the presentation is polished as hell – and the developer has been communicative and responsive to fans and their requests and ideas.  It plays equally well docked and portable (nearly an impossibility on the platform, honestly).  You can play effectively with any combo of controllers.

I suspect we haven’t heard the last from this developer … and I can’t wait.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

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