Geometry Dash is a perfect microcosm of all execution-based gaming. There are almost no unnecessary distractions, the game has a clear objective and you basically always only have exactly one way to do it.
In this (not endless!) runner game the screen moves from right to left while you control a character that can – according to the whims of the level designer – jump, fly, flip gravitation, airjump or whatever else can be fit into one-button gameplay. Yes, Geometry Dash is playable with only exactly one button. I played it on a smartphone and the controls allow you to touch the screen anywhere. I could go on a tangent here how this ridiculously simple design still actively makes you consider the control choices here, but I don’t want to bloat this review too much. (ask me about it tho)
Depending on the form your character takes (which is purely determined by where in the level you are), you control character height in different ways, but you only control your character vertically, while the horizontal pace of every level is constant, and only modified by the level and not you. As a cube, you have a jump of fixed height. As a rocket, you ascend when pressing and descend when not pressing. As a ball, you have to flip gravity to roll yourself through the level. And you have to do it perfectly for each level, from start to end. If you die, you start over. The game doesn’t care if you died 98% through a 5 minute level and if you only lost because your nerves got to you. Do it again, you fucking nerd. You’re not in control at all, but you have to make the ride work anyways.
This simple concept evokes a lot of feelings for me. I have to ask myself, why is it so addicting? The game might have collectibles in each level and you gain fake “currency” for every time you progress further into a level, but neither is anything of this paid or even slightly intrustive, nor do you unlock anything but cosmetics. It’s just neat reward - it doesn’t skinner-box you, but it gives you a lot of options how you want to look for your own enjoyment. I don’t play this game to “unlock” stuff, though, not at all. The main drive of this game is that it shows you how you, as a human, can get better at something that seems impossible and it does so at an incredible pace. You might think collecting the three coins in level 6 and finishing seems impossible when you try it the first time, because, well fuck, how are you going to keep up your concentration for this long, and you can only get consistently to the 15% mark of the level – how are you supposed to do that? Thankfully the game supplies a handy practice mode that lets you fumble through levels and learn each section the way you want with checkpoints where you want them. You can retry each section on your own 50 times, and suddenly, wait, how did I finish the level after 2 hours? It seemed so impenetrable.
I know some people have defeatist feelings when they watch a veteran player utterly destroy a game that they struggle with. Older Platinum Games might have great combat, but the scoring is often wildly demoralizing to newer players, and since the learning curve there is longer than 2 hours, it makes people give up faster, when it is meant to motivate them. Geometry Dash is here to remind you that, what seems impossible, is maybe just a minor roadblock. You can get decent or even good at something extremely fast, and you’re just overestimating the task because you haven’t faced anything like it before. You learn each level and get better, the execution is in your hands and mastering each of the levels is a very own niche skill in itself. Over time, you will have to learn less and react better on the fly to more complex level structures. You not only get better at a micro-, but at a macro-level, considerably so.
Another question this game is making me ask is this one: How many games are at their core just like Geometry Dash, about pure memorization and execution skill without player expression and how do they still differ?
Geometry Dash is more varied than pure rhythm games like Osu, DDR or Guitar Hero that keep the same control scheme and functionality over literally all gameplay, which makes it harder for Geometry Dash to keep the same macro-level skills like these games do, but there is value in that. There is excitement in being absolutely flabbergasted at the challenge each time and learning to overcome it anyways. Even if it is limited, Geometry Dash can show you through its simple memorizational and executional challenge that you can also be good and learn a skill, if you go about it the right way. There is no “finding out”, there is no “trying different things”, there is no expressivity and no dynamism. There is only “do it”, and yeah, that is sometimes how life works.
The reminder that there is always a little challenge on my phone that shows me that I, in fact, can just “do it” puts me at ease.

Reviewed on Aug 05, 2022