This is What Space Invaders Looked Like When Your Parents Dropped Acid

Review

Space Invaders EXtremeAs an ignorant youngin’ raised on Nintendo and Sega, the original Space Invaders is nearly meaningless to me. I’ve played it before, years later with the wonders of downloading and emulators. It was one of the first space shooters, the 1980’s Ikaruga. Few games from that era age well, and Space Invaders is certainly a relic. Now we have Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP and DS, a sensory overload that our generation can appreciate, and a bastardization of the original to old people everywhere. Like an old rock star dragged out of retirement, pumped full of psychedelic drugs, and thrown in a studio with today’s hottest producer, it’s questionable whether Space Invaders Extreme will be a hit for nostalgists or newbies.

Space Invaders actionThis is your game. This is your game on drugs.

My step-mother is only 11 years my senior, but old enough to reminisce about the days of Atari and Colecovision. She was initially excited to hear I’d been playing an updated Space Invaders, but found the game to be too flashy and over the top. It’s true, Space Invaders Extreme not only packs trippy music and graphics, but also features more complicated gameplay. While a single anecdote from an admitted non-gamer isn’t gospel, the game clearly detaches itself from the original’s humble trappings.

The look of the game is clearly influenced by any of Q Entertainment’s games. The uniquely synesthesiac stylings of Rez, Lumines, and Every Extend Extra are ripped off wholesale in Space Invaders. Sound effects double as musical cues for the pulsing electronic music while a cryptic video plays in the background. Overall it lacks the punch of those other games, cheapening the style and coming off as a poseur. It’s not like Q is the sole proprietor of the style either – Jeff Minter’s Space Giraffe is one example of music-infused graphics done right. In Space Giraffe the rainbow of waveforms served to make you think differently about how visuals and sound interact. In Extreme, the visuals accomplish little more than obscure bullets, getting you killed.
Comparison, Rez, Lumines, Space Girraffe, Every Extend ExtraClockwise from Top-Left: Rez, Lumines, Space Giraffe, Every Extend Extra

The original Space Invaders is the granddaddy of the shoot ’em up genre, the very first horizontal space shooter. Its influences are seen today in more modern shooters such as Ikaruga, Mars Matrix, and DoDonPachi. It’s sad then that Space Invaders Extreme does little more than borrow elements from those games. Color-coded enemies (the basis of Ikaruga) dole out a selection of powered up guns including an oversized laser beam (as seen in DoDonPachi). The scoring system is needlessly complicated, piling on layers of requirements for high score potential. Shooting four invaders of the same color, followed by four of a different color, releases a multi-colored UFO. Hitting that UFO as it passes jarringly tosses you into a bonus round in which one of several different mini-games must be completed within the time limit. Success in the bonus round throws you back into the main game, except in a limited “Fever Time” mode with a special weapon. Hitting white UFOs during “Fever Time” gives you a “Jackpot”.
Space Invaders Fever TimeFEVER TIME, BABY!!!

I’m reminded of a recent reimagining of an old school classic, Pacman Championship Edition. Pacman C.E. was such a brilliant game because it took the original concept and improved upon it. Extreme merely complicates the original, with the aforementioned scoring system, branching level paths, and new enemies doing nothing to improve upon the core gameplay. It can also be punishingly hard. Some enemies, when shot, zip down to the bottom of the screen and instantly kill you at any distance. Between this and the noisy graphics, expect many cheap deaths.

Space Invaders ExtremeSometimes the invaders change colors. I forgot why.

There’s something to be said for the simplicity of older games. There’s also something to be said for the polish and style in modern day games. Space Invaders Extreme is a barely passable attempt to walk the line between both. It’s by no means a terrible game, it just fails to accomplish anything a retro remake should set out to do.

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