The dual-stick shoot-em-up has so far defined next-gen downloadable content thanks to the auspicious success of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Combining a simple presentation with a never-ending challenge designed to crush your soul seems to be the perfect formula for a revival of the arcade mentality, only now without the creaky stand-up cabs or the smell of copper on your palm that comes from tightly gripping a stack of quarters in your sweaty little paws.
Now we leave our nostalgia at home, where we can keep a close eye on it or stash it under the bed when company comes over (right next to the crusty Playboy). After all, they might think we're nutty for indulging in such childish passions! Oh, but we have an outlet thanks to the shiny, new next-gen consoles sitting in our living rooms – powerful media machines that wouldn't look out of place in any modern entertainment center but seem to be doing as much for games from the 1980s as they are for those from 2006.
What was once old is new again and it's little surprise that the PS3 debuted with two retro-inspired games on its Playstation Network service in order to cap on the trend. The primary of the two, Blast Factor, is austere and brooding. With levels segmented into "cells," it shares a lot more in common with Mutant Storm (another early release on Xbox Live Arcade) than Geometry Wars, but the idea is generally the same across all three titles: dodge and destroy successive waves of enemies in your little geometric cage in order to advance.
A small variety of malevolent anti-bodies stand between your little pod and the disinfecting of one of seven specimens. Like the other games I've mentioned in this review, each enemy has its own specific pattern and when two or more are thrown at you in tandem, it becomes a delicate dance properly balancing your extermination techniques. For instance, white platelets will home right in on you as they appear while the larger "Big Tips" require you to shift the playing field in order to knock them over and expose their weak underbellies.
Blast Factor does a good job of incorporating your special abilities into the elimination of your enemies. At your disposal are two techniques which are always at the ready. By tilting the SIXAXIS quickly left or right, you can send a wave across the screen in that direction, which pulls all baddies along with it. The second is a repulsor mapped to the R2 button that pushes enemies away in a concentric ring around your ship. These can effectively be used together in order to defeat specific enemies, get yourself out of danger, or bunch viruses up to create a score-boosting chain. It adds a lot to a game which would've otherwise been a well-constructed, but otherwise completely derivative clone of other titles in the same vein.
The game features around 98 or so "cells," but you won't be accessing them all each time through. One of the niftiest bits of Blast Factor is its branching levels design. Performing well on a particular cell by meeting the target time will send you to more difficult ones, while doing poorly will keep you trudging through the easiest of the bunch. Tack on some tough boss battles down the line and you've got a game with a fair amount of replay value. There's also an online score ranking to participate in if you crave the competition.
As one of the first downloadable games for the PS3, Blast Factor is spectacular in its own right, but without bursting onto the scene as Geometry Wars did, it's unlikely that it'll ever garner the same level of popular acclaim. Nonetheless, it plays well, runs smoothly, and heralds the kind of game play which will keep score-hounds coming back to it again and again.