Originally released on the iPhone and iPod last year, Space Invaders Infinity Gene has finally made its way to the consoles. While the transition allows for a wider audience, the resulting port isn't quite as impressive on the big screen.
Infinity Gene isn't short on ambition — the game attempts to combine a superficial interpretation of Darwin's theory of evolution with the gameplay elements of the original Taito classic — but it misses the mark on execution. What may have worked well on a small touch-screen, it doesn't quite shine as brightly when upscaled into the HD realm.
You start the Infinity Gene adventure with a re-creation of the original Space Invaders game. This is quickly replaced by an "evolved" version of the experience, which expands on enemies, weapons and power-ups. As you play through each level of Infinity Gene, new options constantly become available. Some of these directly impact gameplay, while others are unlockables, such as bonus stages or background music selections.
Securing unlockables, such as new weapons, in the later stages can make it easier to replay earlier stages and land higher scores. This can then lead to opening up even more unlockable content, fueling a cycle that is bound to reward you with something almost every time you play.
High scores are achieved in two primary ways. The first involves chaining your kills. Just keep taking out bad guys with no breaks in the action, and your chain (and score) goes up. Don't kill anything for a few seconds, and your chain resets to zero. The other way to score big is via the Nagoya attack. Something of a misnomer, the Nagoya attack isn't really an attack so much as it is a defensive maneuver. It seems that enemy bullets don't fully form until a second or so after they've left their barrels. While in this intermediate state, the bullets won't cause any damage but will reward you with big points if you pass through them. The trick is to stay right next to a firing enemy, in the small zone where the shots are still safe.
Visually, Infinity Gene maintains its old-school look but does so without feeling cheap. Everything on the screen is sharp and distinct. Stage layouts vary enough from level to level that there is a noticeable progression. Playing on the 10th stage is nothing like playing on the first. With that said, the tight adherence to black-and-white ships and retro graphics does lead to a few complications. On more than one occasion, it was difficult to tell if a background design was simply a harmless background design or an actual, physical impediment that needed to be avoided. After experiencing a few sudden and unexpected deaths, you start to learn what is and is not safe, but the whole experience results in unnecessary frustration. On-screen dangers should be obvious, not a function of trial and error.
In terms of gameplay, Infinity Gene tries to borrow from some of the many Treasure and Cave arcade classics. While it emulates some of the insane "bullet mania" features, it never truly replicates them. The biggest hurdle facing Infinity Gene here is lack of fine control. Since there's no touch-screen on the Xbox 360, you don't have the ability to nudge your ship a hair's breadth away from danger. There is always a minimum distance it must move. An option to slow down your ship speed (perhaps via a button press) would have been a welcome addition when you're out there trying to thread the needle.
Audio is solid, with appropriately mixed electronica forming the backdrop for your adventure. The default "evolution" sound is a bit harsh, yet authentic to the roots of the game. If you have your own tunes ripped to the hard drive (sorry, CDs and MP3s on USB sticks don't work), you can play Infinity Gene's music mode. Here, the game uses the first song in your playlist as a random seed and builds a level around it. Every song in your collection offers up a different experience.
Coming in at 800 Microsoft points ($10 USD), Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an interesting update to a classic franchise. It's not quite as polished as Namco's XBLA updates (Pac-Man Championship and Galaga Legions), but for the retro fans out there, Infinity Gene still provides plenty of entertainment bang for your buck. Go in knowing what to expect, and you won't be disappointed.
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