Inversus combines the look of Othello and the feel of Geometry Wars. You control a square that moves around an area filled with black and white tiles. It has a similar tile-flipping mechanic to Othello, and it has the same arcadey shooter feel with tight controls that Geometry Wars provides.
The game has two modes, arcade and versus; I’ll start with arcade. It’s essentially a “high score” mode where you fight off swarms of enemies and survive as long as you can. You can only move across white tiles, and enemies can only move across black tiles. There are two enemy types: red and white. Red enemies convert your white squares to black as they move around. If they run into you or flip the tile you’re on top of, you lose a life. Fortunately, your shots turn black tiles to white, so as you shoot them you regain some control of the field. It’s a constant struggle for control over the board against the enemies; the main way I died was from not having enough room to maneuver because I lost too much of the board. You have to take each shot keeping in mind enemies you’re planning on killing and what section of the map you’re gaining control of.
As a side note, even if the game sounds hard to master, the tutorial is very well done. The game teaches you the mechanics by letting you mess around in a space with no enemies or immediate danger. It’s effective at teaching how everything works, and it doesn’t feel like you have to memorize a bunch of text boxes filled with information.
In contrast to red enemies, white enemies shoot back. Unlike you, they can only hold one shot at a time, so you can use that to your advantage. You can hold up to five shots at one time, and you reload by either waiting a few seconds or picking up red lasers that red enemies drop when they die. These red lasers move much faster than normal shots, making it easier to hit enemies from farther away.
My main complaint with arcade mode is that it’s hard to tell how many shots you have left. Your remaining ammo is displayed on your character, who is constantly moving and spinning. On top of that, ammo that is currently reloading fades in slowly, which makes it look like they’re ready to fire even when they’re not sometimes. It’s nearly impossible to see how many shots you have remaining in the middle of a firefight. It also makes it hard to know if you have a red laser left, to see if you need to compensate for the slowness of your regular shot.
The shooting is one of the things that makes Inversus so interesting. It’s much more methodical than many other games of the genre. If you shoot too fast, you will end up wasting all your ammo and die while waiting for it to reload. It’s better to wait for enemies to come into your line of fire than shoot at random.
This is further encouraged by the way combos work in this game for taking out large numbers of enemies. In many shooters, you get combos by shooting large numbers of enemies quickly. In something like Galaga, you can wait for a group of enemies to swoop down and spam the fire button as fast as possible to kill them all. In Inversus, your opponents explode when they die, which kills enemies around them. By grouping enemies together, you can create massive chain reactions with a single shot. Enemies are pretty predictable, so you can get them to group up to conserve your ammo and clear out sections that you can then enter to avoid other enemies. Combos feel like a calculated shot that you set up rather than a test of how fast you can push the fire button. Also, when the white enemies shoot, you can parry their shot by firing your own laser just before it hits you; it will reflect it back at them. This once again encourages you to think about your shots rather than spamming the fire button.
It might require more thought about where to fire, but you still have think quickly and on your feet. It has a very classic arcade game feel – the sound effects, twitch reactions, and simplistic graphics all make it feel like a classic shooter. It has one goal – to beat your high score. It’s all very straightforward and simple, just like arcade shooters should be. It might go a bit too far with the simplicity in some ways though. It only has two enemy types, and the game only has a handful of arcade maps and not much else to do. It’s not a huge issue though, as it’s not exactly the kind of game that requires a lot of content to be fun in the first place.
The versus mode pits you against another person. The only problem is that I could never connect to anyone in online mode, so it doesn’t seem to be very active at the moment. Fortunately, I could play against my brother, me with a controller and him on the keyboard. It’s actually a lot more fun than I was expecting. It has far more maps than arcade mode, which is strange because arcade mode seems like what people would be spending most of their time on. It’s less frantic than arcade mode because you only have to worry about one person. One of the coolest things about it is how it handles screen wrapping. Lots of games let you go to the other side of the map when you reach one side, but this game has an interesting twist on it. Instead of disappearing on one side and reappearing on the other, the screen overlaps, so you seem to be in multiple places at once. Some maps make it look like you’re in six places at the same time because the map repeats itself. It’s insanely fun; we were both grinning the entire time we played.
Arcade mode has that kind of screen wrapping also, but it’s less pronounced. You also tend to stay around the center of the screen in arcade mode, so you don’t see its effects as much. Speaking of arcade mode, the game has a two player arcade mode, so we tried that out for a while as well. The first thing I noticed is that your characters look almost exactly identical. They have small distinguishing features, but both players are squares with the same shade of white. We usually split up the map so we wouldn’t confuse each other and get mixed up. It’s harder to defend each other that way though, which is a problem when you’re sharing a pool of three lives. It is fun, but the single player arcade mode is much better.
Despite some minor complaints, the game is great, especially considering it was designed by only one person. As far as the design goes, I also appreciate how fair it is. You can see where enemies are about to spawn and what spaces they’re about to flip to black. White enemies’ shots are not hitscan, so you have a split second to react after you see them shoot. The games are quick, intense, and fun.