After receiving high marks on the PSP and DS, Space Invaders Extreme has finally landed on the Xbox Live Arcade. Like Pac-Man Championship Edition and other revamped versions of classic arcade hits, SIE manages to successfully retain the spirit of the original game while improving things enough to make it a regular part of your gaming rotation in the modern era.
You’ll still blast away at wave after wave of rivals, but new additions like a variety of power-ups, screen-filling bosses, and a faster pace than any prior Space Invaders makes this the most exciting entry in the series yet. Similarly, additions like branching levels, bonus rounds, and online play give it an impressive replay value. The core gameplay additions work wonders at making play sessions last for hours, as you can easily get hooked on a single goal - like wiping out an entire screen with a single laser power-up, or beating every bonus round in a given level. The power-ups themselves range from powerful bombs, to a weaker, but more screen-covering broadshot and then my personal favorite - the laser, which is great for destroying a column of enemies in one fell swoop - an immensity satisfying experience that never seems to get old.
There’s more depth than one might expect to SIE. The player now lacks shields, which means that you’re vulnerable all the time - adding a lot of excitement to things right off the bat. Enemies are also much faster and come in a greater assortment of shapes and sizes than ever before - making this is a an added element of strategy to each weapon, as each one works best on a certain type of enemy or grouping of them.
If you’re dealing with enemies protected by a shield, you’d want to use either a laser or bomb power-up on them as that would destroy their shields quickly. The bomb would be the better choice if there are enemies right beside them, as they’d get destroyed too, while the laser would work best if there’s only one enemy with the shield, as it would destroy them quickly and not have to worry about having perfect aim to destroy them since the laser destroys everything in its path. You also have to factor in how long you have to use a weapon - each power-up only lasts for a limited time, so you need to make the most of it before being forced to use your default weapon.
Unfortunately, while there are a few multi-player modes available, and they can be used online, they’re greatly hurt by a lack of online players and other factors. Online play is lag-free, but the split screen size used for each player’s game is too small for both online and offline multi-player versus modes. Given that so much happens at once in every given play session, this becomes a problem pretty quickly. As a result, single player is definitely where you’ll spend the bulk of your time. Fortunately, the screen size isn’t problematic in multi-player co-op games, but this issue does make versus matches a bit of a chore.
Visually, this revamp sticks close enough to the original’s game’s style without coming off as archaic and also updates a few things. The enemy ships and weapons retain the classic pixilated look - but they’ve been given a subtle shading effect, and look crisp even when viewed on an SD TV (and of course, look sharp as a tack on HDTVs). While the crispness may not seem important on the surface, in a game that relies so heavily on avoiding heavy fire, including attacks that have just enough space between them for your ship to barely pass through, that clarity is important. If the graphics were blurry or muddy in any way, it would be a recipe for disaster as you’d be more vulnerable to attacks, but fortunately, that isn’t an issue here.
Screensaver-esque backdrops have been added - giving the game a much more polished look than past SE games. I found them to be just active enough to keep the background from looking bland without getting in the way of the action - a godsend given how much action there is to keep track of. Like the possible issue with blurring, if the backgrounds were too busy, it would just make the game needlessly difficult. While I don’t mind the backdrops, I do like that the developers included the option to remove them and just leave the background black as the fancy ones are too distracting in multi-player versus games. Plus, the all-black look just serves to make SIE more visually dead-on with the original. The graphics as a whole remind me a lot of the Geometry Wars Retro Evolved series in that they’re just the right mix of modern and retro.
SIE’s audio is a success in just about every way. The soundtrack is full of good techno music, and as a bonus, it’s ties into the game’s sound effects. So when you shoot an enemy, you’ll hear an effect that’s perfectly in-synch with the music - it reminds me a bit of Rez in that regard, although the tunes aren’t quite as catchy. Still, I dug the effect, and certainly wasn’t expecting it going in.
Space Invaders Extreme is a definite must-buy. While it’s got some minor nagging issues that hurt it, especially given how the arcade-ish nature of the game lends itself towards multi-player action, the game as a whole is fantastic. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a game of Space Invaders owes it to themselves to give this a shot, and anyone who hasn’t had a chance to should at least try out the trial game…and then play the Taito Legends collections to partake of more SI games.