Also available on: DS, PSP (2008)
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release date: May 6, 2009
Price: 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
There is little doubt that Space Invaders is one of the most inspirational games of all time, capturing the attention of designers such as Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and turning a whole generation to pixels, bleeps and boops as a source of entertainment. Its influence on the industry and pop culture is huge, and its wild and spiralling success was two fold; its mechanics were obvious to the complete novice and can be picked up instantly, and its seafood-inspired spaceships are just as recognisable and have since become synonymous to anything to do with a joystick.
It’s this familiarity and nostalgia that makes Space Invaders Extreme more of a culture shock than an homage. The rules are broken; ships no longer judder from left to right, trickling down the screen and fire the occasional shot. There are no shields to protect you. While the objective remains intact - clear the screen and stay alive - here they twist to avoid fire, reflect shots at you with shields, magnify or shrink in size, scroll round screen edges, and rapidly swoop down to attack. The tactic of shooting where they’re going to be doesn’t work, because you don’t know what they will do next.
Each wave has its own little surprises to put up with, and power-ups help to tackle these added challenges. Defeating four enemies of a colour gives you a corresponding power-up, from quad-lasers to take down multiple ships to bombs that destroy shields with ease and a powerful beam that incinerates everything in its path. Picking the right ability can make waves far easier to clear, provided that you have a keen eye and the accuracy to pick out the colours. The mere addition of colour adds new strategy to these fledgling mechanics, and this is extended further to the scoring system - clearing enemies by column, row, shape and size brings you additional multipliers for higher ranks, which allow you to branch out to different stages.
Its quirky nature expands with fever mode. Hitting a flashing UFO whisks you off to a challenge of defeating specific enemy types under a time limit with delayed controls and overwhelming enemy numbers to contend with, but you’ll come away with a powerful spell of fever attacks that’ll destroy everything in your path to help your score and chances of survival. Boss battles throw an added curve ball, throwing together masses of falling enemies combined with giant ships that have the customary weakness through power-ups. They require adept precision and the ability to dodge fire more than other stages, and there's an added intensity when you know running out of lives here will throw you back to the start of the stage.
While the arcade mode is challenging and constantly surprising, it’ll take less than an hour to clear provided you don’t fail too often. Its short but sweet nature and trappings of rankings and multiple routes lend themselves to replays, especially since it’s a treat for the eyes and ears. While the redrawn visuals are crisp and defined versions of their pixelated forefathers - complete with crazy eighties-inspired visual effects and swimming backgrounds - it’s the thumping music that’ll really grab your attention. While it doesn’t quite match the nostalgic melodies of its handheld versions released last year, the booming rave music is quite simply awesome.
Where this version attempts to go one better than its handheld variants is multiplayer, where up to four players can tackle the arcade mode together or go head-to-head in competitive modes. While the game doesn’t up the difficulty with the addition of extra bodies, it always makes it more fun to have extra ships on your side. Survivor sees victory go to the last ship standing, and Score Attack sees who can get the most points - especially vicious considering you all share the same screen. It's best played locally however, as Xbox Live has a degree of lag; while it’s entirely playable, there is a split second delay between button presses and added slowdown between waves which isn’t exactly favourable, so going local is the way to play.
After the initial shock of experiencing its dazzling lights, booming sounds and surprising mechanics, it quickly dawns that Space Invaders Extreme is the same game the world fell in love with decades ago. Still muscling through waves and firing desperately at that last elusive ship, it has everything that made it such an icon, with the added layers of strategy that go perfectly with the old mechanics. While it is an incredibly solid game, non-completionists will find it very short and its poor online code make it less than an essential purchase, especially compared to the more complete DS and PSP versions last year. But for those who have yet to experience it, it’s one of the best retro remakes put together - something that’s exciting, fresh and incredibly familiar all at the same time.
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