As Gyruss is more than 20 years old now, chances are fair that many people reading this have never played it. And despite that, the only real way to describe the game is by calling it a cross between equally ancient arcade classics Galaxian and Tempest. Does that clear everything up, Junior?
Basically this old-school space shooter progresses like a zillion others from back in the day – each screen is its own level; enemy ships fly into play from off-screen in fancy configurations, then entering formation at the “top” of the field. Then, after they’ve all assembled, they commence attack runs. All the while, you're blasting away with your little spaceship, dodging not only kamikaze aliens, but also their fire and even the odd asteroid. It's a premise mined by dozens of old games; the difference is that in Gyruss, the alien armada sets up shop in the center of the screen, and your ship spins and swirls around the outside edge of the playfield as if on an invisible circular track, constantly pumping hot plasma into the circle's center.
Despite being so old, the pseudo-3D look of Gyruss is still pretty effective. Plus, the game has been dressed up with “enhanced” graphics that actually look decent – they don’t make this look like an entirely new game, just polish up the original aesthetic. Though some purists on staff hated the new look - especially the red nebula in the background, which makes it tougher to see enemy shots, asteroids, and the enemies themselves.
What hasn’t aged so well is the game play and the crazy difficulty curve that comes along with it. Make no mistake: the premise of Gyruss is a decent one (heck, games like Galaxian and Space Invaders are still fun), but the difficulty ramps up so quickly that most gamers will find themselves throwing in the towel way too early in the experience. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the original was controlled with a spinner, and an analog stick is really no substitute - and nor is the wannabe spinner on Mad Catz' 360 arcade stick.
Multiplayer is really multiplayer in name only. In both versus and co-op mode, you simply play through your own game on your own screen, competing or cooperating to achieve the highest score. Despite a few matchmaking glitches, online play runs well for the most part. But it’s not nearly compelling enough to keep you coming back for more.
At 400 points, the pain is relieved somewhat. Gyruss is still a bit of fun to pick up and play once in a while. But only those who have fond memories of the original game – not to mention extreme patience with extreme difficulty – will get any lasting value out of this Live Arcade offering.