40 Years of Space Invading
Almost 10 years ago, Space Invaders Extreme released for the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable and blew people away. The game was a wild reinvention of one of the most iconic shmups ever made and it somehow transformed a 30-year-old property into a modern darling. To say it was a must-own is an understatement, as you basically won’t find a single negative comment about the game on the entire internet.
Following that success, the game was eventually ported to the Xbox 360 with an overhauled soundtrack and some slight upgrades done to the graphics. The 360 port included four-player co-op, an improvement over the original’s two-player option, and was a critical darling for how chaotic the gameplay became. Sadly, that new soundtrack really put a damper on the experience and the game wasn’t as widely loved as the DS original (the PSP version also had a different soundtrack).
Now, 10 years later, we’re getting a PC re-release of the DS original that contains all of the improved visuals from the 360 port, but actually lacks features present from the beginning. The gameplay is still highly addictive, flashy, and chaotic, but this new port feels like a missed opportunity to provide us the “definitive” edition of Extreme.
Space Invaders Extreme (DS, PSP, Xbox 360, PC [Reviewed])
Publisher: Square Enix (DS, PSP, 360), Degica (PC)
Released: June 17, 2008 (DS, PSP), May 6, 2009 (360), February 12, 2018 (PC)
MSRP: $29.99 (DS, PSP), $9.99 (360), $19.99 (PC)
In some weird twist of fate, I somehow never managed to play the original version of Extreme. I had told my mom about the game and she even owned it, but I spent an entire decade knowing of its existence and never trying it out. When I say I was blown away when I first played this version, you know I’m being serious.
Space Invaders Extreme retains the very basic idea of what the original Space Invaders was all about while adding a huge touch of flair to the experience. Instead of simply shooting progressively descending enemies, you now can chain combos together, get different weapons, and even participate in bonus rounds. This is more of a score attack game with Space Invaders window-dressing than a true sequel to the original.
That doesn’t mean the style isn’t retained, because the enemy sprites and new bosses are all fashioned after that classic ‘70s title. It is super fun taking a trip down memory lane, but having it showcased in a new manner. I especially love that the sprites seem almost lifted out of the original arcade game instead of completely overhauled to look more modern.
The main gist of Extreme is an “Arcade” mode that sees you going through five different levels to an eventual conclusion with a massive boss. After beating the second level, you can branch off into different paths that will increase the difficulty of subsequent levels, making for four unique playthroughs if you follow a specific route. Accessing these routes requires getting an A rank for your score, so you’ll need to become proficient at the game to stand a chance.
The boss battles are a real show stealer, each doing something unique with their different setups. The fourth boss is a big pain in the ass, but his whole gimmick requires you get a power-up and ricochet shots off of incoming enemies to hit him, which adds a whole different layer of strategy to the proceedings. It is a lot more involved than simply spamming shots and just waiting for the enemy to blow up.
One nice change from the DS original is that if you run out of lives during a level, you won’t be transported back to the beginning upon hitting retry. Your score will reset and you’ll likely lose out on an A rank (and a chance at going a different route), but this allows players to actually make it to the end of the game without spending hours perfecting their skills.
There is also an added rapid-fire button, which makes scoring combos a lot easier. The whole name of the game with Extreme is chaining kills together, which works whether or not you’re paying attention to enemy color. The higher your chain goes, the more points you’ll score and the closer you’ll get to scoring an A or even S rank on a level.
The enemy colors, though, will work by dropping the different weapons for you. If you chain together four red enemies, for instance, you’ll get a bomb power-up that explodes on contact with foes. My personal favorite is the blue laser power-up, which literally shreds through enemies and allows for super quick chain building.
The bonus stages you’ll encounter come about once you hit specifically colored UFOs that fly over the top of the screen. You’ll basically play mini-games where a specific stipulation must be met (such as killing 10 UFOs or collecting 50 coins). Successful completion of these bonus stages sends you back to the main level with a “Fever” state, which gives you an even more souped-up version of your current weapon.
Understanding how this entire system even works takes a little time. When my friend and I sat down to give this game a shot, we had no idea what was even happening. That first blind experience makes me think of how the internet assumes Japan is this wacky-ass land full of odd customs and flashy lights. Space Invaders Extreme is the video-game equivalent of someone yelling “JAPAN IS CRAZY” at you.
You’ll be shooting at ships, activating insane weapons, and hearing an announcer proclaim, “FEVER” or “LEVEL UP” and have no idea why anything is happening. When it does click, though, Space Invaders Extreme becomes a highly rewarding and deep shooter that just beckons you to keep pushing yourself. It’s no wonder people fell in love with this title. I managed to beat it four times in a row just trying to unlock every path and that was regardless of me trying to review the game.
The upgrades for this new PC version come in the form of much sharper visuals and an extra “E” difficulty path. Everything is crisp, the backgrounds are mesmerizing and trippy, and the animations are smooth as can be. It is pretty similar to the 360 version, just with support for even higher resolutions than 1080p and some extra levels. Sadly, you can’t customize that resolution in the menu, or anything for that matter.
I would be surprised if the game ran poorly for anyone, but there isn’t much in the way of menu options for Extreme. You can turn down the music, but you’d have to be insane to want to silence this thumping score. You can’t customize the controls and while controller support is present, there are no button prompts for 360 or PS4 gamepads.
The biggest omission, though, is the lack of multiplayer. Since I knew about the 360 port having co-op gameplay, I got my friend pumped up to try it out with me only to discover there isn’t anything beyond the main game. Sure, a “Freeplay” option exists to let you try out individual levels and you can share scores online, but there are no multiplayer options whatsoever.
That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but this new PC version costs $20. It is double the price of the 360 version, which has more features and even some downloadable content to expand the game. While I think it’s great and a pretty good deal for $20, the exclusion of modes doesn’t make any sense.
If the price were a bit cheaper, or if even online multiplayer were included, I’d readily recommend this port without a problem. As it stands, while Space Invaders Extreme on PC is solid and certainly looks and sounds the best out of any available version, the lack of such an awesome mode just sours my opinion on it.
Hopefully we can get co-op in an update or even as DLC, because I’m still eager to get back in and shoot 40-year-old aliens.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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Space Invaders Extreme reviewed by Peter Glagowski
Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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