This may be the most fun I've had so far with the Xbox 360 in 2009. Space Invaders Extreme manages to be one of the most delightful games I've played in years despite having the word "extreme" in the title, which is something I thought was banned by international law in 1997.
$10 (800 MS points)
If you have any remotely fond memories of Space Invaders, this game will build on those and deliver unto you the biggest, blockiest aliens you could ever hope to kill. The game uses sound effects from the original arcade machine and new music which, while electronic, sounds synthesized like something you would've heard in the arcade if the technology were a little better in 1983. I did not expect to like this game, but its just so old-school that it manages to be something I can (and do) play for hours at a time. One or two hours, but still, hours.
The buildings which act as shields were dropped, but you can get power-ups and move your analog stick, the d-pad, or if you have one, an arcade stick. One button shoots, another can "pause" the power-ups as you only have them for a limited time. The learning curve for the controller is about four seconds, although there are nuances in the gameplay which take a little more getting used to.
Oh-- and if you have one of those Mad Catz spinner/dial controllers? Throw it out. It isn't compatible with this release.
Shoot the Core, and More
If there's one thing classic Space Invaders needed, it was power-ups. There's a death ray laser, bombs, multi-cannons, and even a shield which covers your mobile base for a brief time. In addition to Gradius-like vehicle enhancements, there are bonuses awarded for shooting the invaders in a specific sequence. Shoot a row, or a column? That's a bonus. Shoot four of a single color? There's how you get your power-ups. Not being colorblind is a necessity for this one, unless you just like shooting into the dark.
Boss characters require you to blast through them oversized pixel by oversized pixel, and the invaders in each stage are directly based on the originals. Some have shields or stronger weapons, some are big, and some are small-- but they all look like faithful reproductions from 30 years ago. There are no fangs, no reimaginings, or attempts to be hip or modern. You're fighting giant 8-bit sprites, and you're going to love every minute of it.
We were unable to test online multiplayer because we couldn't find anyone to play, so this is where it falls apart. Not only are there few gamers on Xbox Live when we took it online, but the menu and matching systems are not conducive to a quick start. If you want those multiplayer achievements, or any online experience, you will need to know someone else with a copy of the game so you can invite them to play with you.
The one-player arcade mode is pretty straightforward. There are five "worlds" with multiple stages each, and you can continue from the beginning of each world if you leave and come back. As such, it isn't terribly hard.
This game may or may not include the original game and its sequel. The ESRB rating explicitly states Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II are included, and some gamers have expressed that they claim to have seen these modes within the game. But then they vanished-- what the heck is going on here? Is this some elaborate hoax? Even the developer would not explain to us what was going on here, so I'm not sure what to tell you other than that I'll update this space if I hear something conclusive.
"Vs." multiplayer involves split-screen for up to 4 players, and it gets a little small. Basically, the winner is whoever survives the longest. "Co-op" involves one playing field with two turrets sharing one pool of lives. It's a little frustrating to have to rely on your partner getting a 1-up for you to come back and play, but it's genuinely enjoyable to have someone else helping you shoot down those pixelated aliens. I wouldn't suggest you buy the game solely for multiplayer, but it's a nice extra feature to have so you can pull friends into your game rather than just have them stare at you having a good time.
Is it worth buying?
Yes! If the online worked better-- and there were more players-- it'd be an A+. Space Invaders Extreme is so easy to pick up that you'll be blasting away seconds after downloading it, but there's enough in the way of nuanced shooting technique to keep you coming back for more, despite it being somewhat short. It's just so much fun that you'll probably wish you could have played this in the arcades many years ago.
If this is what retro remakes are going to be after Pac-Man Championship Edition, I want more of these. Bring on the Q*Bert remakes, a new Darius game, anything. If the kind of care that Space Invaders Extreme has is put into another new title, it's going to be well worth the asking price. It's one of the most stylish games you can play on the console and above all, it's about as retrotastic as they come. If you have any childhood memories of the original Space Invaders you owe it to yourself to get this game. $10 is an absolute bargain, if it ever goes on sale for less than that, your not buying it puts you on the level of some terrible sub-human cast-off.
June 3, 2009