After spending a few days with the game, I think I can safely reiterate my initial impressions from Thursday. Feel free to peruse the following entry if you’ve got questions about some of the finer nuances of the game.
The “fastest finger” (shoot-at-the-aliens-before-they shoot-at-you) gameplay still exudes the same tension and sense of urgency that made the original so much fun, and the space invaders themselves even keep their classic 8-bit aesthetic. However, Space Invaders Extreme mixes in a few modern-day trappings that make the experience substantially different from its predecessor.
For starters, the invaders come in different colors, now. It seems like a neglible difference, but it’s really important if you care at all about high scores…which is, of course, presumably why anyone would play this game in the first place. Shoot 4 enemies of the same color in sequence, and you’ll nab a “power-up” – a laserbeam, bombs that can wipe out clusters of aliens at once, a protective shield that repels enemy fire – for a limited time. Which one you get depends, once again, on the color of the space invaders you’ve destroyed. Blue enemies grant laserbeams upon their demise, while destroying red aliens yields cluster bombs.
If you manage to this twice in a row (for example, shooting down 4 red enemies and 4 blue ones in succession) and you’ll be able to interrupt the game for a special “bonus round” – complete whatever challenge the game throws at you here, and you’ll enter a “fever” mode where, for a short period of time, each enemy you shoot down will be worth 10x the normal point value.
You can also multiply your score fairly quickly simply by shooting enemies – whatever their color – in very rapid succession. Eliminating enemies at a rapid rate activates a “chain” – a score multiplier of sorts that increases with each enemy you destroy, and decreases every moment you fail to shoot down one of those pesky space varmints (and the top screen keeps track of all these score modifiers for you, so don’t worry if this sounds a tad overwhelming).
With such drastic changes to the scoring system, the game becomes more than just a simple test of precision and quick reflexes. It adds a bit of pattern-recognition based puzzle-solving to the game (much like that of another classic videogame, Tetris). In fact, I’m more inclined to label Space Invaders Extreme as a “puzzle” game rather than a “shooter.”
The other elements of the game’s presentation also reinforce this classification. Clearly inspired by the efforts of Q Entertainment, who brought us the rhythmically-challenging puzzlers Meteos and Lumines, SIE integrates sound effects with various background music and kaleidoscope-like movies, creating a sensory overload that amounts to nothing less than aural and visual opulence.
Even with these seemingly drastic alterations to the gameplay mechanics, Space Invaders Extreme maintains the same structure as its predecessor: there’s no story to speak of, nor does this game need any; the game still incorporates the arcade-style “branching” levels, (where you can continue playing until you’re out of “lives” – or, in this case, extra ships), and there’s another game mode where you can simply play through an particular level of your choice and try to get a high score. Like the original, the game is also brutally difficult at times, especially on the later stages - it’s still an exercise in futility, and, most importantly, it’s still fun, even 30 years later.
The game boasts a multi-player mode, but the gameplay options here are really limited. My brothers and I tried it, and it’s nothing more than a “compete-to-survive” contest. The depth and breadth of the solo game is not present in the multiplayer modes, and I wouldn’t recommend this game if you’re looking for a fun multiplayer game for the family. I’ve played only the Nintendo DS version of Space Invaders Extreme, but there is also a Sony PSP version for any interested parties. Most critics seem to agree that the DS version is superior, but also agreed that game is an easily defensible purchase regardless of what handheld videogame player you buy it for. I’m inclined to agree with them on the latter point, although I’m not sure if this is a game for everyone. It’s harmless fun, like the games of old, but the “fun factor” will be dependent upon your enthusiasm for earning high scores.
On another note, I’ll be out of the country for the next coming week without any internet access. I hope to back and ready to blog in the first week of July. St. Catherine of Siena and all holy men and women, pray for us!