Space Invaders Extreme

You are the last defense of planet Earth. Swarms of hostile enemies have descended from the skies, bent on the destruction of the human race. You valiantly fire a cannon projectile system in an attempt to thwart the invaders, but it’s proving ineffective; in your desperation, you fire off a massive laser to wipe out a group of them. As you dodge enemy fire left and right, a familiar tune pulses in the background, but you don’t have time to think about that – one of the little fighters is etching closer and closer to ground control, moments from impact…

This is Space Invaders Extreme. Arriving on Xbox Live a year after its release on the DS and PSP, the game brings power-ups, chain combos and a healthy dose of madness to the classic shooter. The core concept is the same: remove the enemy units from the top of the screen before they reach the player, by means of a movable cannon. What sets this update apart is a number of smart additions to the gameplay.

The space invaders no longer differ simply by shape, but also by colour. Power-ups are granted to the player after destroying four of the same colour invader in a row. Each colour corresponds to a particular ability – red invaders grant bombs, which can destroy clusters of enemies; green invaders grant a multi-shot; blue invaders grant the laser, which can destroy groups of attacks in a horizontal line; and gray invaders give players their own shield. These power-ups – which quickly drain as they are used, but can be “held” until needed – add a new layer of tactical gameplay to the shooter, as each weapon has it’s advantages against certain enemy types.

Another change comes from the new behaviour of hovering motherships. Attacking them no longer rewards the player with just a bonus; depending on the colour, it may also initiate an objective-based bonus-round separate from the main game. There are new enemies, too. Boss invaders, giant invaders, invaders which split into more invaders… and so much more. You won’t have any idea what’s going on for the first 20 minutes of play, but by the time you do, you’ll probably be hooked. It’s good, then, that a handy stage-select lets you repeat any level you’ve beaten as you try to perfect your score, and online leaderboards are also available to compare your performance against players worldwide.

Boss invader attack!

Some bosses require great diligence to be defeated. Or you can blast them with a laser.

In addition to the main arcade game, Space Invaders Extreme boasts a full offering of multiplayer modes: co-op, versus attack and versus survival, all available either offline locally or online through Xbox Live. Co-op lets up to four players to play the main arcade game, supporting one another until each player runs out of reserve lives. Survival tasks you with outlasting your opponent against ever-increasing enemy waves, and versus allows you to pressure other players with additional enemies by blasting  motherships. Of these, I found the co-op mode to be the most enjoyable; fighting over power-ups and against accusations of “YOU STOLE MY LASER” is extremely satisfying.

It’s a shame that – in a game so reliant on careful timing – the network code just can’t keep up with the action online. Working through the co-op arcade mode with a single friend is possible; you’ll still have to put up with a slight response lag, but at least you have a chance. However, up the player count, or enter one of the versus modes, and things just fall to pieces. Regardless of who I was playing with or where they were from, I was facing latencies of a full second. Perhaps this will be addressed in a patch update, but it’s unfortunate that the most enticing new feature of the XBLA version is fundamentally broken.

The presentation of the game is generally pleasing. Seeing the pixelated but iconic space invader shapes in crisp HD is a delight, and the visuals elsewhere impress; bold, striking background animations and flashy screen transitions ensure there’s never a dull moment. The sound-design is somewhat less successful. While the bass-enhanced techno remixes of the original Space Invaders “onslaught” theme suit the pace of the game, the plinky-plonky cannon shots do not. Just as with the DS and PSP versions, it seems that the developers wanted the cannon fire to have a rhythmic tone in tune with the music, but while it worked in the portable versions, here it ends up sounding annoying.

Speaking of the previous releases, fans already familiar with the game will notice a couple of mechanical tweaks this time around. Most significantly, the speed of the game has been reduced. While this would arguably go some way towards softening the game difficulty (a prior complaint from some critics), the movement speed of the player cannon and its rate of fire are also slower, so ultimately the level of challenge remains roughly the same. And make no mistake – the game retains its frantic sense of mis-direction, especially in later stages.


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