Publisher: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: May 6, 2009
Who doesn't like Space Invaders? It's one of the core video game icons, right up there with Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Q-Bert. Sure, some of those franchises have dried up over the years, but they're still from that '80s realm of gaming to which so many people had an early connection. There's an entire generation that didn't grow up with these titles, but for those of us currently in our 30s, these titles are among our earliest gaming memories. Space Invaders in particular is one of the early pre-cursors to an entire genre of gaming, the shoot-'em-up, specifically those that incorporate a top-down view. It's spawned a number of clones and evolutions over the year, and it continues to do so today.
When Taito decided to cash in on the Pac-Man Championship Edition craze that Namco started a year or so ago, it had a couple franchises up its sleeves that would provide some opportunities. One was Arkanoid, and the other was this title, Space Invaders Extreme. It debuted on both the PSP and Nintendo DS and was well-received by fans and critics alike as a great re-imagining of the franchise to give it some much-needed life, a little more speed, and a few other interesting mechanics that refreshed a game that had been floundering in the background for quite a while.
I had played the DS version of the game and remember really enjoying it, so I jumped at the chance to review the XBLA version. The visuals make use of a lot of bright colors and flashy effects, which translate much better to the big HD screen than the dimensions available for the DS version. I was absolutely correct, as Space Invaders Extreme is a sight to behold in high-def, with a lot vibrant activity on-screen using instantly recognizable icons and pixelated characters. It manages to capture the intensity of the old game while infusing it with some current-generation mechanics; it comes across as retro while still managing to feel fresh.
For those of you who missed out on the original release, I'll try to break down for you the changes introduced in the new version. First and foremost, one of the central ideas behind Space Invaders Extreme is that you want to be precise and constantly hit enemies in order to build up your score counter, which is shown on the left side of the screen. There's a small bar with a number in it to show your kills, and the bar will constantly deplete when you don't hit anything with your shots. Keeping this score meter in play is the key to getting the best rank at the end of the levels, along with keeping your tiny ship alive and doing well in the Fever modes and Boss battles. The levels are split up into a number of sections, with certain paths unlocking various stages depending on how well you do, allowing for a few replays to see all the content the game has to offer. Each stage culminates in a boss battle, often making use of some unique battle option or weapon to complete.
Unlike the previous Space Invader titles, you have the opportunity to outfit your ship with some special weapons, provided you can hit four of the same colored enemies in a row. Green enemies will drop a power-up that allows for a spread shot, red ones will drop an exploding shot, and the blue guys will unleash a devastating laser attack that obliterates any enemy not equipped with a gold shield. The silver enemies will drop a shield item, which isn't nearly as dynamic as the others, but I suppose they wanted a defensive item to round out the arsenal. The weapons are all very handy, and while the blue beam might seem to be the powerhouse of the group, it doesn't work that well against shielded groups, whereas the red exploding bullet mows down just about anything. Being able to pick and choose which weapon is right for the current wave of enemies means that you'll be able to amplify your score even quicker, and after a bit of playing, you'll figure out what to look for. Each stage consists of a number of waves, with various forms and types of enemies attacking you.
Along with the basic stage setups, you'll occasionally enter bonus rounds by striking the flashing UFO that flies at the top of the screen. These are almost like shooting gallery mini-games requiring you to hit a certain enemy once or multiple times, while avoiding or shooting past other obstacles in your way. If you successfully complete the round within the time limit, you'll enter into Fever mode, which is basically a way of giving you an unlimited supply of super weapons with which to obliterate enemies. It's another key way of racking up a sizeable score in the game, and it adds a lot of punch to the standard gameplay.
The majority of the game is score-based, and even when you go online against another player, the competition boils down to whoever has the highest score. There is an online survival mode that involves outlasting your opponent across three different lives, but the high score co-op challenge is far more intense and interesting, and it doesn't split the screen down the middle like the Survival mode does.
The music is also a lot of fun, infusing the gameplay with a techno vibe that really fits the FX and flashy colors of the game. The tracks aren't particularly memorable; after playing, I can't really hum along to any particular theme or track, but they're definitely enjoyable to listen to, and you feel dynamically involved with the actions on the screen while playing, including the shots fired from both your ship and the invaders.
Altogether, I really enjoyed Space Invaders Extreme because it's a lot of fun and serves as a great revival of a classic franchise. If you're an Xbox 360 owner and missed out on the PSP and DS versions of the game, then you owe it to yourself to try out this one, and even if you already own the handheld versions, the game looks fantastic enough on the big screen to get it again on XBLA. However, it doesn't add a lot of new material to what you already have, so keep in mind that you might want to try out the demo first.
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