Release Date: June 17, 2008
Most folks would like to imagine spending their 30th anniversary on an exotic getaway to some tropical island, enjoying the sunshine and taking a break from the hectic world. Space Invaders has decided to take its 30th anniversary out on the town instead and shake up its image with Space Invaders Extreme, the most original take on the game since the original title burst into arcades three decades ago.
This time around, you're going up against more than just the same rows of invaders quickly descending upon Earth. You're still tasked with saving the world by using nothing but the left, right and fire buttons, but this time you'll have a little extra firepower to back you up.
Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP is still an incredibly simple game. It's not as extreme and complex as the modern breed of shooter (Ikaruga, Geometry Wars, etc.), nor does it rely on heavily stylized visuals and rhythms to keep it interesting. It's incredibly old-school, but still a refreshing new take on the tiredly approaching rows of identical invaders.
So, what's new about these particular conquerors from space? To start out, they come in a whole rainbow of different colors and formations, spread across many levels and even a few boss battles. You'll be facing five different colors of invader, and for the first time in the series, the color matters. When four invaders of the same color are shot down in a row, a power-up of the matching color will drop from the last invader. These power-ups include a green Broad Shot, a piercing blue Laser, a scatter-damage red Bomb as well as a dull grey shield. In addition, getting two different power-ups in succession will send a flashing UFO across the top of the screen, which can result in a super power-up.
The super power-up, or Fever Time, is the result of a successful "round," which removes players from the main action to perform a specific task, such as shooting down 10 invaders without having full control of the ship's movements or shooting a UFO surrounded by dozens of constantly rotating invaders. The timed challenges are usually simple enough, and the reward is well worth the effort. Not only does completing a round fast-forward you past the current batch of invaders, but it also gives you a fairly long chance to use a souped-up version of one of the regular power-ups. As icing on the cake, the amount of Fever Times you achieve affects your rank.
The scoring system is pretty straightforward, and if you pull off enough Fever Times to score an A rank or higher, you can progress down different, harder branches of the arcade mode. This means that while there are technically only five different levels in a single Arcade mode playthrough, there are 11 stages total for anyone with the patience to unlock them and go down the harder roads.
It's too bad the actual scores don't feel like they count for much. There are no extra lives awarded and no online component — not even a leaderboard. It feels like a step backward for the PSP when you consider that the DS, a less Net-worthy handheld, has leaderboards and full online multiplayer. The DS even got a single-pak local multiplayer, but all the PSP gets is a multi-pak version of the same thing. This means that you need two PSPs in close proximity with two Space Invaders Extreme UMDs to communicate via ad-hoc, which is of course a crippling set of conditions. The PSP version only feels like half a game when compared to its DS counterpart. The only incentive left in the game is challenging yourself to unlock all of the hardest stages in arcade mode and better your own score.
To cripple the title even more, the only "score attack" mode is the "Stage mode," which lets you challenge particular stages but not unlock new ones. This means that any score you earn while unlocking the harder levels don't show up when you go to Stage mode, and only the most dedicated Invaders enthusiast will wind up giving Stage mode a go. For most, the main game is challenging enough, especially on Extreme mode.
When I say challenge, I mean challenge. Simply surviving the initial five stages and five bosses will require more than a continue for casual gamers, and the increasingly difficult B, C and D levels will just about murder anyone without a diploma in video gaming masochism. Fortunately, this acts as the game's saving grace. Much like the original Space Invaders, anyone can get through the first part, but there's still a lot there for the hardcore crowd to dig into. While it can't completely salvage this half-game, it makes a good effort.
The graphics are crisp, and even when you display it on an HD big-screen, it's all really sharp and vivid, probably because there's so little else to render. Each invader has only one task, and whether it's "scoot to the side, drop and shoot" or "frantically zigzag to the bottom for great justice," it's not a technologically complicated game. There are some bright and pretty fireworks-style displays going on in the background, but serious players will quickly learn to drown those out as distracting background noise, much like the generic rhythm pulsing throughout. There's nothing to really grab the attention in either the graphics or sound department, but really, how fancy can you get with Space Invaders? It would lose its retro charm if the invaders were smooth, 3-D aliens.
All in all, Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP is a solid update on a classic, and the first true successor to the Space Invaders series since the original arcade cabinet. It's a little different, but it still can't quite feel modern. Perhaps an online component would have improved on this, but as it is, it's only half of the game, albeit a pretty entertaining half. Fortunately, the slightly reduced price tag may be incentive enough for gamers to pick it up as something to pass the time on-the-go. After all, that is the ultimate goal of a portable game: to distract and entertain for a few minutes at a time.
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