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The most recent games I’ve played are Geometry Wars 3 and Nuclear Throne, two arena shooter games that have similar controls but contrasting design. Both games are similar in that they are very challenging to the point that the average length of single gameplay sessions are about the same. I feel that where they differ most is in their progression.
Geometry Wars challenges the player by constantly changing the playfield with enemy waves of variable density and speed. Although there is some degree of randomness, the player’s abilities change very slowly and the layout of the levels are static. The player can set for themselves a helper drone and a limited super ability before the level begins, and the only upgrades available for firepower change the firing rate and direction. As a result, the player is encouraged to constantly shoot at everything without fear of depleting ammunition or self-destructing and focus on positioning against and dodging enemies with erratic movement patterns that generally do not fire back. There are a number of gameplay formats that engage the player’s limited options in a variety of ways (some of which restrict them), which present in order in the Adventure mode and in the Classic modes at the player’s demand.
By contrast, Nuclear Throne‘s procedural generation systems instead have the player character constantly change with many different types of weapons and upgrades, and the challenge comes partly from improvisation with the randomly selected options given to the player in each session. As of this writing, there are 12 characters with unique special abilities, rather than a single ship that depends on combinations of modules to enhance its odds of survival. The levels are linear and have randomly generated layouts and enemy placement. With limited ammo available to the player and enemies with more sophisticated AI, the focus shifts from careful movement to careful planning of attacks. Because most enemies do not have to be near the player to become a threat to them, dodging incoming enemy fire now shares importance with dodging the enemies themselves. As a counterpart to Geometry Wars, there is only a single gameplay mode with the ultimate goal of reaching the ending rather than the high score.