Review: Space Invaders Extreme 2 (Nintendo DS)

Space Invaders Extreme 2
Developer: Project Just
Publisher: Taito/Square Enix
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Release Date: 03/26/09 (JP)/ 10/20/09 (US)

I won’t lie: I freaking loved Space Invaders Extreme, as did fellow colleague Mark B. It was my nominee for DS game of the Year for 2008, and shocked the hell out of me considering the fact that Taito was bought out by Square-Enix prior to releasing that game; while I hadn’t trusted Taito for awhile, I trust Squeenix about as far as I can throw your average Kingdom Hearts fanfiction writer. Since then, Taito’s been on an absolute roll, pumping out quality game after quality game after quality game; unless you really don’t like Rainbow Islands, they can do no wrong at this point.

I loved Space Invaders Extreme so much, that I didn’t even wait for the game to be released in America; I imported the Japanese game, at a cost of almost $50. Who cares if the American version would eventually come out, likely at the same $20 price point that I lauded the original for so highly? It came out in March, and the US version just came out in October; I didn’t want to wait that long. I happily played it, and didn’t review it only because of a time crunch on my part. However, we got word that we got the US version of Space Invaders Extreme 2 from Taito (yes, we got it free; happy, FCC?), and that it was ready to be distributed for review. I was able to tell Lucard, happily, not to bother; I could whip up a review within days, likely while the new version was still in the mail. Therefore, my fiancée gets a new, free game to play, I get to write up a game I wanted to write up in April, and Taito gets a review from someone who did the first game, and was therefore an expert on it. Everyone wins! Due to that fact, please note that this is technically a review of the Japanese game; on the other hand, note that there is literally no difference between the Japanese, European and American versions; they’re all the same.

So, with me being an unabashed fanboy of the series, did I think SIE2 lived up to it’s predecessor?

Modes

Arcade mode from the previous game comes back this year in the form of “Score Attack”, which involves getting the best score possible. Multiplayer – available either via Wi-Fi, local or computer play – also returns, with there now being a difficulty option for easy, medium and hard play. The only real change comes from the addition of a time attack mode, which grades you on how fast you complete stages. Both score and time attack are supported in Ranking Mode, which comes back from last year’s game. Also, there’s a Beginner’s Mode for score attack, which allows players to go through the easy versions of each stage with an infinite amount of lives.

In short, it’s mostly the same game as last year, with a few additions that take absolutely nothing away from what was a good package to begin with.

Modes Rating: Enjoyable

Graphics

SIE1 was a graphical orgy, with the well-known alien characters all getting colourful upgrades, explosions abounding, and everything being put over a constantly moving techno background that screamed pastel. This new version basically takes that orgy and adds in a few clowns and a midget. The backgrounds have all been improved, and I love the nod to the classic games that the top screen of versus mode has. If anything, Space Invaders Extreme 2 might be TOO colourful; there’s an option to shut off the graphical backgrounds, and while that removes some of the charm of the game, people who are easily distracted would do well to enable this option. If you’re epileptic, just THINKING about this game is enough to give you the shakes.

There’s a lot going on on-screen, especially in tense moments, but you can still see everything going on around you – you will never die due to issues with the environment – and the game exudes a techno charm that separates it from any other shooter out there.

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound

In my review of SIE1, I compared the interaction between the player and the game’s sound to that of Rez; the pulsating beats and chimed sound effects that react to everything that happens immerse players of both games in to the point where the act of playing the games becomes an experience; it’s possible to completely lose yourself, or at the very least find your head bobbing while you play.

SIE2 is no different. Some of the soundtracks were recycled for specific parts of the new game, but 98% of what you hear is new, and it’s truly an outstanding experience when you get really into the harder stages. In addition, there’s an American announcer – even in the Japanese version – that exclaims things like when you hit bonus stages, or get Fever mode, or do anything worthy of mention. He adds something to the general flavour of the game, and considering both SIE games are audial masterpieces, that says something.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

Control and Gameplay

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the main part of gameplay; if you’re unsure of the game’s basic mechanics, go check out the Control and Gameplay section from my review of the first game. Nothing has been actually removed between the two versions, so it’s still accurate. I’ll instead spend this time talking about what was added.

The biggest difference between the two games is the fact that the bonus structure has been redone. Just like the last game, hitting four enemies of the same colour (excepting white) brings a power-up, and doing it again brings a flashing UFO that brings on a chance to score bonus points. The first change that comes about this year is that shooting the flashing UFO does not bring you to a separate bonus stage; instead, the “bonus stage” is the top screen, where you shoot enemies while the stage continues on the bottom screen. Completing the top screen brings about Fever Time, which is basically the second half of the bonus stage; you shoot aliens at the top to increase your score, while simultaneously shooting the aliens at the bottom – all of whom are now coloured gold – who drop gold bonus items; the amount of top-screen aliens and gold bonus items determine the bonus score at the end of fever time. The new style of getting to Fever Time keeps the game flowing along, and adds a bit of challenge considering the fact that in all of this, the aliens at the bottom don’t stop shooting; focusing too long on the top screen can often lead to losing a life.

There is a bonus stage that takes the player away from the main game, just like SIE1. This is activated via something called the Bingo system. There’s a set of nine blocks during normal gameplay on the top screen, along with the score (fixing an issue I had with the last game; the top screen is now relevant). These blocks have two colour schemes; an outer colour and an inner colour. As stated, getting a set of two straight instances is enough to get a flashing UFO, but this also fills in a box on the bingo field corresponding to the colours that were hit to bring about the UFO. For example, if a box in the upper right has a green outside with a red inside, hitting four green aliens then four red ones will fill that box. At that point, it’s a case of playing a regular game of bingo, though a full house – the entire board being covered – is possible. Getting a bingo brings about a new bonus stage which, if completed, allows a special Fever Time that allows pink items that provide a huge score bonus.

Combining the gameplay elements from the first game with the new changes from the second one can seem intimidating to new gamers, leaving a lot to think about. Even on the Japanese website, there’s a developer diary that goes into some of the intimidation that gamers might feel with the new Bingo system. They stress to try to enjoy it as it takes nothing away from gameplay, and I agree. Ultimately, the goal of Space Invaders – shoot everything that moves – is not compromised, and most of the time, bonuses are picked up by accident, so it doesn’t take a lot of thought to do well in this game. There is an online leaderboard for ranking mode, but it’s unreliable, as it’s susceptible to cheaters. Finally, there’s also support for the Arkanoid paddle that’s available in Japan, but I do not have this paddle, so again, I was unable to test this game with it.

Ultimately, they took nothing away from what made SIE1 an amazing game, and everything they added to the formula made it better.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Amazing

Replayability

With a Darius-like stage branching element, there’s a lot of different stages to play. No matter what, each stage 5 – even the easiest one – is difficult, so combining the issue of getting the best possible score or time with just trying to beat the last stages in the first place, there’s a lot of game to play here, and by the nature of an old-school arcade style game, it’s almost endlessly replayable. Adding another mode – time attack – to the equation only adds to what is an impressive package for repeat playing.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance

Difficulty between the first stage, the latter stages, and between the easier and harder levels of later stages are very well balanced. The game never experiences a spike or a valley when it comes to difficulty. However, maybe it’s because my focuses were elsewhere, but this game seems a bit easier than the first one. That is either a good or bad thing depending on your opinions of the first game, but this isn’t a game that’s going to have you throwing the DS.

Regardless, there’s a nice, even line between the first stage and the last one, and with the addition of difficulty levels, even vs. mode is balanced well.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality

At first glance, this is one of the most unoriginal games ever, and that’s mostly correct. There’s precious few changes between SIE1 and SIE2, and even the previous game was very close to a game that was released initially in 1978. Under normal circumstances, this rating would be exceptionally low.

However, I’m going to give some credit to the Bingo system, which is truly ingenuous. For the most part, it’s ignorable, but it has to be mastered to get truly high scores, and is an ultimately great addition to a game that already was good. It gives people something to think about while shooting aliens, at least.

There’s not much original here, but that’s probably for the best; last year’s game was incredible on it’s own merits, and the one big change they made was for the better.

Originality Rating: Below Average

Addictiveness

Maybe it’s the passing of time, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been consistently playing two versions of this game since last June, but Space Invaders Extreme – 1 or 2 – isn’t quite as addictive as it was when I first started playing the game. I’m not endlessly continuing if I get killed off in a stage anymore, and my play times are shortening.

On the other hand… I’ve been playing both games consistently since June of 2008! And I’ve been playing this one often since I got it in April. I don’t even play good sports games that often.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor

There’s very few names with as much mass appeal as Space Invaders; it could be argued that the original game more or less defined space shooting games in arcades, causing a shortage of 100Â¥ coins in Japan, making arcades fashionable, and setting the stage for countless blatant ripoffs before the spectre of copyright law managed to find video games. In short, there’s a lot of appeal here for anyone who likes games and can see past Halo or Madden.

With that said, this won’t have quite as much appeal as the previous game simply because it’s not vastly different than the first one. It’s not an absolute must-own for people that liked – but didn’t love – SIE1, even with the highly attractive price point. Fans of the game will definitely want to pick it up, and any casual gamer that missed the first game would do well to pick it up, though I must warn more ambivalent gamers that the new car smell is wearing off.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

It feels redundant to say that I absolutely love Space Invaders Extreme 2. It’s one of the best shooting games out, and again, it’s only $20. Seriously, if you like shooters, you have no reason – other than the fact that it could possibly appear on XBLA for $10 later – to buy this game. It looks great, controls well, and never has a dull moment. I loved the first one, and the second is better. I apologise I couldn’t be more verbose, but I kinda just want to get back to playing.

Miscellaneous: Unparalleled

The Scores
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Good
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Good
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

If you didn’t get the first Space Invaders Extreme, get this. Just trust me. It’s an outstanding shooter that only gets better with practise, and it will keep you enthralled for a lot longer than you would expect for a $20 game.

If you have last year’s game, it’s up to you; there’s not *that* much different this time, so you could skip this version if you wanted, but if you’re on the fence, take the plunge. The new changes take nothing away, and this is a better game in almost every area – small or large – than the first game. Either way, I can’t recommend Space Invaders Extreme 2 highly enough.

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