Release Date: June 17, 2008
Space Invaders Extreme takes the original's tried-and-true motif of moving from left to right, reverse, and changing direction and gives it a kick in the pants. The new version introduces new enemy ship types, power-ups as rewards for chain attacks, bonus stages and boss battles all in one cartridge. It's as though the team at Taito has been combing through 30 years of fan requests and jamming as many as can fit into the latest experience. Thankfully, it all works incredibly well.
Those familiar with the original Space Invaders will no doubt recall that variety was never the game's strong suit. With only three enemy ship types (all of which had the same capabilities) and the occasional UFO, there wasn't a whole lot going on to keep the game fresh after the first few levels. For this new version, though, things have been cranked up a notch, and several new invaders have arrived to ruin your day. Some ships carry armor, requiring multiple shots to blast through, while others hide behind reflectors, knocking your beam shots right back at you. Still others explode when shot, taking out friend and foe alike, while the nastiest of them all come at you like kamikazes once shot, flying erratically and then blowing up your cannon once they land. As if that weren't enough, some ships can even turn sideways, making them near impossible to hit until they decide to show themselves once more. The baddies mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg, as there are plenty more ships were that came from, some of them bearing particularly nasty surprises. Ultimately, this constantly changing lineup of evildoers gives the game legs and prevents you from getting bored halfway through from doing the same old thing for several hours.
Also spicing things up are the introduction of power-ups, bonus rounds and boss battles against gargantuan foes. As you play, you'll find that shooting four of the same color invader will grant you a temporary weapon power-up, which you can use to cut through baddies quickly and effectively. New weapons include a spread beam to take out multiple foes at once, a bomb shot that does collateral damage to any ships around the one you were targeting, and a laser that can easily wipe out an entire screen worth of baddies with one simple sweep. The inclusion of these upgrades adds a nice layer of strategy to Space Invaders Extreme, and you'll often find yourself carefully lining up shots so you can gain access to the particular weapon you think you may need to finish the level in the most effective manner.
Another layer of strategy lies in the appearance of the UFOs that hover across the top of the screen every so often. Many times, you actually control when these ships appear based on the order in which you shoot down enemy ships. Certain combinations yield flashing UFOs which, when shot, take you into a bonus round that tasks you with completing certain objectives before time runs out. Successful completion of these challenges sends you into "Fever Mode," in which your shots are more powerful and points are racked up very quickly. For those aspiring to the top of the high score page, you'll need to get yourself worked into a fever early and often.
Along with the boss encounters, the bonus stages are one of the few occasions when Space Invaders Extreme utilizes both screens of the DS. These battles, which take place every five levels, usually consist of you firing up from the bottom screen into a boss on the top screen with some very clearly marked weak spots. Of course, the big ships aren't alone, and they're more than happy to send an army of smaller invaders at you to harass you as you attempt to bring them down. While normally straightforward affairs, some boss battles can veer off into unique territory, including one where the screens are flipped and the boss is actually below you during the fight. Since you can't hit him with regular shots, you have to fire up into the crowd of encroaching invaders, who are equipped with reflectors in the hopes of bouncing your shots back past your ship and into the boss. You can't just let these small ships keep descending, as if they manage to land, you die just the same. In this instance, you're splitting your time between trying to hit the boss and keeping the small ships from getting too close. It's white-knuckle fun and one of the more memorable boss battles I've played in a game on any platform for some time.
If you ever grow tired of single-player, then you can also take the fight online via single-card play. In this mode, you and an opponent square off to see who can be the last man standing against the alien horde. Borrowing from games like Tetris, as you blast enemy ships, you can then send them over to your opponent in an attempt to overwhelm him or her with so many baddies they have no chance of fighting them all off. You can also blast particular UFO types, which will change the sorts of baddies you're sending. If you want to be really mean, launch a massive wave of kamikaze invaders and listen to your friend curse your existence just before throwing the DS across the room. Sure, the replacement handheld may be expensive, but it sure is funny to watch.
Space Invaders Extreme's presentation also echoes the "extreme" attitude of the game by injecting a lot of morphing backgrounds and trance music to try and juice the experience a bit more. Your like or dislike of this new format will likely be colored by your affinity for house music and the Windows Media Player visualizer. Personally, I kind of liked the way the graphics and sound all melded together with what was happening on-screen, but I think that's largely because I have an affinity for games like Rez. Thankfully, if you don't like the whole vibe, you can turn off the visuals and play with a standard background and cut the music. Aside from that, the invaders themselves and the cannon you control look the same as they did three decades ago, but when it comes to Space Invaders, it's viewed more as retro chic than a lazy disinterest in modernity.
As good as Space Invaders Extreme is, there are still a few areas where it definitely falls short. First off, there are only two single-player modes, and they're both essentially the same thing. The Arcade mode takes you through a series of five levels, each with five stages, culminating with a final boss fight. This mode allows you to save your progress and retry from the beginning of the last level you reached if you take one too many alien lasers to the face, but little more. The entire experience only lasts an hour or two, and the incentive to replay only exists so you can improve your score. Ranking mode is exactly the same as Arcade, only you don't get any options to save or continue, and once you're done, you can upload your score to the global leaderboard to see how you stack up. These fairly paltry offerings stand in sharp contrast to the original, which just kept going and going until you couldn't take it anymore. Honestly, you can plow through everything the single-player has to offer in half a day, leaving you with little incentive to keep coming back.
In light of all that though, Space Invaders Extreme is still an exceptionally worthy addition to the franchise, giving you a healthy dose of nostalgia while still throwing enough good new ideas into the mix to keep the game fun in the short amount of time the experience lasts. Also, since the title is only $20, you aren't really losing much of an investment if you grow tired of it after a week or so of playing. For anyone who's gazed up at the night sky just waiting for 8-bit ships to come raining down (while going from left to right, dropping down and changing direction, of course), this game is for you. Now get to your cannon, soldier. We've got a planet to protect from a whole horde of invaders ï¿½ possibly from space.
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