Space Invaders Extreme: Better Than the Original?

June 20, 2008


Space Invaders is celebrating its 30th birthday this year by attempting to kick your butt all over again. Things are a little different this time around with enhanced visuals, upbeat techno riffs, all new power-ups and enemies that do more than waft back and forth in the abyss of space. Does this facelift work or are there some formulas that are better left untouched?
Extreme is still, in its heart, Space Invaders, an addictive and accessible shooter. It’s simple: assume the role of a space craft and shoot, dodge, and stave off an ever-advancing threat. The iconic invaders consist of wave after wave of downward strafing enemies of various sizes, colors, and even new distinctive attack patterns. Bigger enemies require multiple shots, while others are equipped with shields and some will even take suicidal swipes after taking damage.

The majority of time is spent trumping the invasion through the levels of Arcade mode, which offers branching pathways until you reach one of the multiple renditions of stage 5. Performing well gives options for trying more difficult levels, though you can keep things on the “easy” route. But even easy stages offer a hefty challenge, and will keep even a spry shooter on their toes. Luckily, Arcade mode automatically saves the progress at the beginning of each stage. Space Invaders purists can try Ranking mode, which is identical to Arcade, minus the ability to save your progress but with the added ability to upload scores and compare them across global rankings.

Downing a flashing UFO prompts one of the many bonus rounds, which can consist of shooting down red UFO’s or destroying a number of enemy drones. Successfully completing these rounds build Fever Time, where your ship is becomes incredibly powered up and capable of wasting entire waves in mere seconds. Other mini-games, like the roulette wheel, can net extra lives, which may be needed for each stages’ dramatic boss battle. But probably not, as these big bosses can often easily be defeated by mashing the fire button, though some require some strategy in order to expose their weakness.

Multiplayer is a strict two-player competition. You have the option to battle online, or locally as you and a bud take on identical waves of enemies. The DS offers single cartridge sharing, and also monitors each players’ progress through the top screen, a nice touch. Whoever stays alive the longest is declared the winner.

Space Invaders offers a nice package, though it would’ve been a blast to take on the more difficult arcade stages with some co-op. But it’s hard to dwell on that when the new enemy attack patterns demand more tactics and the boss battles offer a nice twist on the classic gameplay. At a budget price, the difficulty and high score attempts offer an addictive element great for marathon sessions or quick pocket play.

Simply strip away the fancy eye candy, and you’re left with the classic Space Invaders formula. Much like Pac-Man’s retooled Pac-Man Championship Edition, Space Invaders Extreme manages to wow with a completely new look, but still upholds the classic gameplay the series is known for.

The primary attack, a single-barreled laser, can crush most of the invading force with a single shot, and has a worthwhile fire rate, but it’s the new power-ups that really manage to steal the spotlight. Shoot four enemies of the same color in succession and grab the power-ups for spread guns, lasers and shields or bank them for later by holding down either shoulder button. With simple but solid controls and skill based rewards, every lost life is a reminder to practice some more and go for that high score.

The techno riffs and musical montages that ensue as fingers tap out a rhythm on the fire button might not be for everyone, but the visuals and gameplay are nothing short of spectacular. If the background’s pulsating colors and 3D imaging is too distracting, you can always turn it off in the options menu. But why bother? A huge appeal of this game lies within the vibrant shades and narcotic beats found throughout. Each stage offers a new melody to shoot, with each invaders’ destruction adding to the chorus.

The DS version capitalizes by utilizing both screens for boss battles and bonus rounds, but other than that the action dominantly takes place on the lower screen. On the flip side, the PSP version comes equipped with cleaner animations and graphics. Everything from the invaders appearing on screen in a flipping manner, to the power-ups look sharper on PSP.

Space Invaders Extreme shows what can happen when a classic receives the kind of attention needed for rejuvenation, without sacrificing its core. If you’ve never played Space Invaders before, or simply want to rekindle that old arcade flame, you can’t go wrong with this portable invasion.