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Space Invaders Extreme (DS)

Posted: August 12th, 2008, by Alex McChesney

Retrogaming is big business nowadays. For years the the digital antiquarian who wished to play yesterdays arcade games had to either own the original hardware, hunt down a dusty seaside arcade that time forgot, or, latterly, download an emulator and ROM images. Recently, however, the industry has woken up to the goldmine that is its heritage, and now it seems that there are as many compilations and “enhanced” re-releases of classic games available both on the shelves and through online channels such as XBox Live and the Wii Virtual Console than there are original games.

The problem with such freely available nostalgia is that it often disappoints. Certainly, one can still spend many happy hours causing suburban havoc on Paperboy, or having your ass handed to you time and time again by the brutally punishing but still, somehow, enjoyable Defender. Some games have a timeless quality that makes them just as enjoyable today as when they were released, despite their technical limitations. Others, however influential they may have been, are more difficult for any but the determined to eke any genuine pleasure from.

For this reviewer, Space Invaders has always fallen in the latter camp. Released in 1978, it’s widely credited with bringing video games into the public eye, inspiring many, many clones, introducing game mechanics that live on to this day, and causing a shortage of 100-Yen coins when it was released in Japan. Indeed, round our way it became synonymous with video games in general – to “play Space Invaders” or “Spacies” meaning to play any electronic game at all. To the modern gamer, however, Space Invaders can be a frustrating experience. Every bit as difficult as Williams’ Defender, it can feel agonisingly slow and offer scant reward for progressing through its identical waves.

Released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the original, Space Invaders Extreme is an attempt to update the game for a modern audience, and manages to do say in a way that’s fun and accessible, while maintaining a sense of continuity with the past. Superficially, the classic “left-right-shoot” mechanic remains in place, as are the advancing hordes of invaders which, aside from now being colour-coded, look just as they did 30 years ago. But such a basic framework has given the developers plenty of room to build upon, introducing bonus levels, boss battles, powerup, and varied formations of invaders. Visually, the chunky sprites play over a variety of psychedelic backgrounds that are carefully rendered so as not to obscure the action and can be turned off if deemed too distracting. Rather than slavishly imitate “retro” sound effects, shots and explosions complement the soundtrack, and the overall aesthetic is closest to trippy cult favourite Rez than anything else.

The original Space Invaders was, as all games of its era, all about getting a high score, and though Extreme does have a level progression, and even an “ending” of sorts, it’s still all about racking up the points. Fans of its ancestor know that it’s a deeply tactical game, with various strategies that can be employed to boost your score. Many of these take advantage of quirks of its implementation rather than deliberate design decisions, and its hard to see the modern gamer having the patience to analyse a game in that manner, so Extreme offers a multitude of bonus opportunities both heavily signposted and obscure, making it a game that can be enjoyed for five minutes aimless blasting or as a focus for the obsessive-compulsive, and online leader-boards give the scoring a sense of purpose, though its in the nature of these things that the top spots will have been filled up with ludicrously high scores by teenage boys with too much time on their hands, and the online two-player modes may be more appealing for the rest of us.

Happily, it doesn’t shoe-horn in use of the DS touch-screen or mic, and most of the time the top screen just shows scoring information, with the play area extending into it for bosses and bonus levels.

Whether Space Invaders Extreme has longevity for those of us who aren’t bothered by online competition is debatable, but it’s a refreshing take on the classic, and is available at a knock-down price if you’re bothered to shop around. A PSP version is also available, which I haven’t played but which I understand is virtually identical, minus the online play mode.

Official Site

Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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