When the final version of Genetos was released I'd already been excitedly waiting some fourteen months for it because the preview was fantastic, a journey from monochrome gallery shooting through to the current generation of story-driven bullet hell - it's hard not to fall in love with that! When a couple of news sources mentioned that the final release was a go, I waited rather apprehensively for Firefox to download it; those nerves were because there was always the horrible chance that delay had caused expectations to be raised well above whatever the final game could hope to be or even worse that it had been "over cooked"... but there was no cause for alarm, because Genetos has honestly bettered anything I could ever have expected.
The game is divided into five levels that loosely represent generations in the evolution of the genre, starting out slowly with a pastiche of Space Invaders and, as the titular attackers are destroyed, they drop green pick-ups which can be collected to charge the item bar at the bottom of the screen and, when that reaches the 800 mark, it's time for a boss fight! Continuing to collect tokens and maxing out the bar leads to player's ship performing a "generation shift", transforming it into the ship from the next phase of shoot 'em up development and bolting on features to match - the first shift adds vertical control over half the play area, the second opens movement up entirely and bolts in a smart bomb, the third adds a slow down button to the control system and so forth. The newly-upgraded player can then twonk the boss and continue to the next generation.
The demo that floated around the internet for ages contained four generations which were great fun to play through but, despite appearing complete, the final generation has taken lone developer Tatsuya Koyama a year to release... because the final it pretty much doubles the overall length of the game and is big enough to have been released on it's own since it's been divided into five sub-chapters titled birth, variation, selection, prosperity and extinction.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION
The way a player approaches Genetos will affect the weapons they're given as the ship evolves and there are some achievement-style ways to get alternative firepower such as not evolving during the first boss battle or entering the fourth level with five or less ships remaining. My favourite power-up simply has to be the "summon" weapon which temporarily drags previously defeated bosses back into battle, duking it out on the player's side! There's a neat "free play" mode on the main menu to unlock that allows any level, generation of ship and weapon previously gained during play to be selected, these mix-and-match games don't count for high scores, obviously, but doing things like taking the final ship with a summoned boss in tow into the first or second level is ridiculously amusing!
That story of the shoot 'em up is a big part of Genetos and in beginner and standard modes at least it's pretty easy to play and extremely generous with the lives because it wants that story told in its entirety. A few people have already commented on the "message" behind the madness that shoot 'em ups in general have wandered into something of an evolutionary cul-de-sac and, whilst that's perhaps true to some degree, Genetos proves that there's not only far more variety to the genre than many people realise, but that the old dog still has a significant amount of it's health bar remaining so covering even heavily worn ground can be interesting and entertaining if handled well by a sympathetic developer. Basically, Genetos is a great experience and if it wasn't downloading in the background as you read this, it bloody well should have been!