Review: Space Invaders Extreme (Sony PSP)

Space Invaders Extreme
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 06/17/08


The original Space Invaders is really one of the major highlights of the original era of video gaming, largely because it’s still a pretty amusing game three decades after the fact. Aliens come down towards you, you shoot them, repeat until you’re out of lives. This was a winning concept then, and despite a few amusing (and not so) attempts to reinvent the game in various different ways, Space Invaders is and will forever be a classic.

Space Invaders Extreme doesn’t seek to completely reinvent that classic, fortunately, which is to its benefit. Instead of doing some sort of 3D remake of the concept (like, say, Space Raiders), Space Invaders Extreme goes in an entirely different direction: it keeps the core gameplay completely intact, and instead simply adds to it a more techno infused stylistic, making the experience something not unlike if Space Invaders and Lumines had a kid.

This is not, by any means, a bad thing.

Space Invaders Extreme lacks any sort of a story to speak of, but sports a decent amount of gameplay modes to work with. You’re offered the standard Arcade Mode, which features five levels and branching difficulty pathways, Stage Mode, which allows you to play through each of the stages you’ve unlocked and completed individually as you choose, and Multiplayer, which pits you against a friend in shooting combat with a few quirks added in. Arcade and Stage Modes allow you to choose the amount of lives you’re allowed to work with, Multiplayer allows you to set your handicap against better or worse players, and the core game experience offers a good bit more than the original game, making the provided game modes a bit more interesting and diverse than one might expect. In fairness, three gameplay modes is a little lean, but with what can be done with them, you’ll find a lot to keep you entertained and a lot to do with the game to keep you entertained.

Visually, Space Invaders Extreme looks pretty good; it apes the stylistic design of the original games, then jacks that full of bright, trippy colors and effects, making a game that’s one part Space Invaders and, yes, one part Lumines or Every Extend Extra. The end result can occasionally be cluttered with heavy explosion effects, but generally looks pretty spiffy and is surprisingly impressive considering. It also looks like the sort of games epilepsy warnings are written for, but that’s by no means a bad thing unless bright, flashy games bother you. If not, you’ll love this. Aurally, the game is pretty interesting; you’re given robotic female announcers to point out score chains and powerups as you play, interesting gem-shattering sound effects for shooting aliens, and nifty techno tunes that play as you’re going through the stages. This should be immediately familiar to fans of the two previously mentioned titles, but that’s by no means a bad thing either. The sounds are pretty interesting and fit the experience well. They don’t annoy or grate, and they’re good at keeping the experience going, thus making the revamped effects welcome all in all.

Now, if you don’t know how Space Invaders plays, well, first, there’s something wrong with you, and second, it works like this: Aliens come down from the top of the screen to the bottom, if they reach the bottom, you lose, so you have to shoot them all, without being shot, before they reach the bottom. That’s it. Old-school Space Invaders just had you compete against successive waves of aliens until you died for a high-score, but Space Invaders Extreme instead divides various waves of aliens into stages, varies up the patterns of aliens and their abilities, and pits you against boss aliens to face down. It sounds a lot different, and in many respects, it is, but the core “press the button to shoot and dodge bullets” design is intact, thus making the game incredibly simple to play… at first.

Space Invaders Extreme changes up the Space Invaders experience in a few notable ways, though, which should bring in those of us who have played the original to death. First off, there are no bunkers to hide behind, which might be a bit of a shock to old-school purists but doesn’t really change the experience much. Second, each stage is broken up into waves of aliens, each with different colors (white, black, blue, green and red) and different styles of attack (some shoot circular fire, some divebomb you and nuke the bottom screen, etc) to contend with. Third, UFO’s also come in different colors (see above, plus a flashing rainbow UFO), each of which does different things either when they pass (dispatching more aliens, firing a beam weapon) or when they’re shot (roulette wheels that give you extra ships or points, Mini-Game missions). Fourth, in a well-timed segue, there are Mini-Game styled missions that pop up when you shoot flashing UFO’s that task you to shoot X amount of ships/shoot a UFO/collect items before a timer runs out, with successful completion giving you Fever Time, featuring a shot power-up that obliterates enemies like crazy. Fifth, you also get all sorts of gun power-ups, ranging from Spread Fire to a Heavy Laser to Exploding Shots to a Shield for your ship. Finally, upon completion of the waves of aliens, you come to a Boss battle against a giant alien of some sort or another that has some sort of interesting pattern or mechanic to it to beat it so you can progress to the next stage.

All in all, the changes are all welcome, and make the experience fresh while still keeping the Space Invaders charm.

After the first few levels, you’ll also start to notice the various gauges on the sides of the screen. On the right, you have a gauge that dictates the charge of your current power-up and a bar that fills as you shoot aliens of the same or different colors. Getting four of the same color drops a power-up to shoot with, so paying attention to that and shooting same-colored aliens is good for your overall existence. On the left you have score modifiers and such, as you can combo aliens together for boosts in score, which is a nice addition for fast-shooters. You also have a rate meter, which measures your rate of exterminating the aliens, again, good for fast-shooters. Space Invaders Extreme is really slickly designed for the sort of person who is looking to max their scoring possibilities without being overly obscuring to casual shooter fans. Those who want to score like crazy have tons of opportunities to score big by working on maxing their rate of attack and combos, while those who just want to shoot things can still have a blast with the game. The Arcade Mode also features branching paths of divergent difficulty, allowing you to stick to easier games if you’re not so good and offering better players a chance to rip into harder patterns and bosses.

There’s also a multiplayer component in the game, which offers two modes: direct Wi-Fi multiplay and Practice mode, which allows you to practice against a dummy CPU. The game basically plays like Arcade Mode, with two twists. First, each of you can customize your handicap, thus meaning a more or less challenging game for better or worse players (with the idea being whoever runs out of lives first loses). Second, as you shoot down aliens, timing combos just right and such, you send aliens over to your opponent’s screen, thus upping their challenge. You’re also given an itty-bitty view of their screen, so players looking to implement strategy into their plan of attack have every option to do so. Multiplayer matches work perfectly fine and with the adjustable handicap, the experience is pretty fun for people of different skill levels.

The single greatest thing you can say about Space Invaders Extreme, aside from the fact that it’s budget priced, is that it’s designed to accommodate short bursts of play. A stage can be run through in about twenty minutes, give or take, and you can save at the end of each stage, or even better, bring up stages you like just to blast through them in Stage Mode for fun or to improve scores. The game is simple to play, fun and exciting for hours, good for quick play, and challenging for most everyone.

The few flaws in Space Invaders Extreme are generally pretty easy to ignore, as such; it’s hard to come down on a game that screams “TWITCHY FUN” for a low price, but if nothing else, it must be said that while the visuals and audio on the PSP version are superb in comparison to its DS counterpart (and yes, I did check), the PSP version is lacking in one major area: no online functionality. You can’t play the game online against other players or upload your scores online to compare with other players, and while the latter will only matter to those who want to be the best in the world, the former will matter to anyone who doesn’t have friends with PSP’s. Speaking personally, I know three people with PSP’s and seven with DS systems; considering some people might not know ANYONE with a PSP, if you own both consoles, the multiplayer options on the DS are better all in all. The game, even at its budget price, and even with its addictive play, shows you all it has to offer pretty quickly. Shooter fans won’t care one bit, and fans of short bursts of gaming will love the game all the same, but someone looking for a deeper experience might be a little disappointed with this. Oh, yes, and if you stink at shooters in general, there will be times where the entire screen is full of bullets even on the easiest difficulties, so, well, that might put you off just a tiny bit if your pattern recognition skills aren’t so good.

In the end though, really, Space Invaders Extreme is $20 of twitchy burst gameplay goodness that will appeal to anyone who’s looking for something fun that can be played in small doses. It’s pretty, features a solid amount of play and replay value, sounds great, plays simply enough to attract anyone but in a complex enough fashion to keep you coming back. In short, it does a whole lot with the basic premise of Space Invaders to make the experience fresh and exciting. The PSP version looks and sounds better than the DS version, but lacks the online play and leaderboards the DS version has; if you lack a lot of local friends with PSP’s or you want to show off your scores to the world, that might bother you a bit, but if you have plenty of PSP-owning friends or you only want to play the game solo, the PSP version is your best choice. Either way, Space Invaders Extreme is a fun, inexpensive, entertaining piece of software, and if you’re even a casual fan of shooters you should make every effort to pick it up; you won’t be disappointed.

The Scores:
Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Space Invaders Extreme is a whole lot of fun for a small amount of cash. It combines the classic feel of Space Invaders with a psychedelic presentation and a whole lot of modern shooter conventions, adds in some interesting mini-games and multiplayer elements, and ends up as a good solid remake of an arcade classic. It’s pretty, sounds neat, plays well, and more than justifies its price tag. The lack of online multiplayer and leaderboards hurts a little, and the game is a little small for someone looking for anything beyond jacking up their high scores, but local multiplayer is still fun, and the game is inexpensive enough that anyone with a PSP should pick it up regardless. Shooter fans and people looking for short bursts of gameplay will have a lot of fun with this, and it’s cheap enough that anyone who’s new to the genre wouldn’t regret giving it a shot, either.

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