Even though we as game journalists play a metric ton of games across a wide variety of genres, each of us has our Achilles' Heel — one genre, sort or stripe of game that we are just no good at. It's like a huge void in the repertoire, one particular area of the landscape that just doesn't register on the radar.
For me, two key words invoke a state of terrible incompetence: Stick. Shooter.
When I arrived at the XBLA booth to check out the upcoming titles, the reps were still aglow with awe at the reportedly epic Galaga Legions skills of my colleague, Michael McWhertor. He impressed them so soundly that I thought it best to merely bypass it altogether and get straight to dying every twenty seconds at Geometry Wars 2, the better to move right on to Castle Crashers and leave the whole "embarrassing myself in front of Microsoft" episode behind me.
Geometry Wars 2 now has co-op and multiplayer. Great; now I can die every thirty seconds in front of my friends as I lose track of which player is me. Mind you, this is squarely my failing — Geometry Wars 2 is fireworks of mesmerizing gorgeousness, and the new modes are great.
There's a timed mode called "Deadline," a sort of pattern-recognition mode of short stages called "Sequence," a versus mode, a mode called "Waves" that forces players to stay away from walls, and one called "Pacifist" where you can't shoot at all, but must try to guide the enemy ships into exploding devices.
The standout in my mind was "King" mode, in which you can protect your ship and shoot from safety by flying into a colored ring, which narrows slowly on you until you're forced to move out and onto another one. Outside the rings, you're vulnerable. See, I like the mode where there is a way to avoid being shot at all — but even in King mode, I was the first among the other players to get taken out in round after round.
But I get the appeal of Geometry Wars 2. It's visually overwhelming, I think, but also stunning. I enjoyed just watching the others (after I'd set my controller down in surrender).
Fortunately, I also got to play The Behemoth's Castle Crashers, featuring cute colored knights done in Dan Paladin's inimitable art style. The cartoony knights are really cute, and we four players as a team hurried from left to right, using weapon moves, archery and magical spells to knock out some surly castle guards on our way to storm the gates.
There's a strong attack, a weak attack, and a ranged attack, and each color knight has his own special ability charged by holding down the left trigger when you attack. It's simple, easy to play fun that feels classic and stylish, and seems great for groups, as it's engaging without being especially intense.
After my group reached the gates, we teamed up to take down a big boss, and then had to fight each other to the last man standing for the heart of the princess we rescued.
I was the second to last one standing. Microsoft's Scott Austin was like, ten levels ahead of me after demoing all day, though, so that's the only reason why he won. Seriously, I so had that.