8-bit meets HD in a remade classic
Space Invaders Extreme was originally released on the PSP and DS in 2008 to mark the 30th anniversary of the arcade classic and it quickly found its niche as a superb pick-up-and-play action title for the portable systems. Taito has breathed new life into the game this year by hiring emulation specialists Backbone Entertainment to give it a fresh coat of HD paint for Xbox Live Arcade.
"A familiar look and sound"
The look of the game closely resembles other high intensity games on XBLA, such as Rez HD, Geometry Wars and Every Extend Extra Extreme. Space Invaders makes itself standout by mixing beautiful HD special effects with the original pixellated sprites that gave the legendary arcade game its distinctive visuals. It works beautifully, but you'll need to see it in motion on an HD screen to really appreciate the effort that's gone into beefing up the PSP version's graphics. My only complaint with regards to the graphics was that I found the sheer amount of effects happening on screen to be a little overwhelming at times, giving me worse eyestrain than even the most intense moments of Geo Wars.
Similarities to other 2D shooters on XBLA don't stop with the graphics. The audio follows the familiar conventions of pounding techno, but mixing new and old is certainly a theme here, as you'll notice the occasional sample of old school music and sound effects. The robotic digitised voices really roll back the years too. Unfortunately, most of the weapon sounds effects are ear-wrenchingly awful, particularly the default single-shot laser. Mercifully, you can turn the sound effects off, but the game's trademark intensity just isn't the same without them.
Central to the gameplay is the tried and tested idea of you moving your ship on a horizontal plane while enemies scroll down the screen towards you, moving from side to side and increasing with speed as they come. Despite this you will quickly realise that Extreme is a completely different beast to the one you remember from childhood.
Shooting special flashing UFOs will activate a "Round." In these sections the main gameplay stops and you are transported to a new screen where you will play a short minigame, such as "kill X number of enemies in the time limit." Success in these rounds (of which there are many varieties) will activate a high score mode which is started by the robotic announcer enthusiastically saying "Fever Time!" and they're not lying! The background warps into a psychedelic vortex that wouldn't be out of place in Space Giraffe as you destroy huge amounts of enemies with your powered-up ship. The online leaderboards are full of massive scores by players who have found the best way to exploit Fever Time.
The other major addition to the Space Invaders formula of old is the weapons. Killing a certain number of blue enemies gives you a huge laser beam which is perfect for destroying whole columns in one go. Green enemies give you the Broad Shot, which fires several lasers at once making it easier to hit faster targets. Red enemies give you the Bomb, which explodes killing any enemies in the blast radius and finally grey enemies will drop a shield which can protect you from a 1 or 2 enemy blasts. The risk versus reward of aiming for specific enemies to get power-ups really changes the way you approach the gameplay because enemies are no-longer just to be blasted away as quick as possible. You'll need to approach them tactically for the higher scores.
Extreme also adds a few multiplayer modes to round out what is a great value-for-money package. There's 4 player co-op for the game's main Arcade mode, a survival mode (last player standing on a given level wins) and score attack (player with the highest score at the end of a level wins). They're a fine addition for the most part, but the game can suffer from some input lag in online matches. You'll often die because your ship didn't respond as fast as it would have done in single player. The 4 player modes can become frustrating too as the screen becomes so busy that it can be difficult to tell your ship apart from everyone else's, or even just keep track of the general gameplay.
"Drop down, increase speed, change direction!"
Overall this is another terrific XBLA update of a classic from yesteryear. Anyone with a fond memory of Space Invaders or a love for shooters should definitely pick this up at its 800 MSP price tag. However, if you already own a previous version, just be aware that there is little in the way of new content other than the revamped graphics.