The Xbox Live Arcade version of Space Invaders Extreme is mostly identical to the handheld releases that were issued last year. The main difference is that this version goes for $10 and offers online co-op and versus modes for up to four players. It's still a great offline game, and it's now available at an even better price, but the online is hampered by stutters of latency that cause everything to briefly seize up.
In short, Space Invaders Extreme takes the base concept of shooting pixelated invaders and adds a bunch of combo counters to it. By shooting groups of same-colored invaders or same-shaped invaders, you'll achieve combos, some of which cause power-ups to appear, giving you bombs, wider shots, big-ass lasers, and so on. You can also chain your kills together to keep a chain meter going, increase your multiplier, and so on. All of this is made trickier by a constant influx of new invaders in different formations. You'll fight huge, laser-spewing invaders, or have to pick off tiny invaders with careful precision. Some enemies break for the ground when shot, forcing you to shoot a second time before the reach ground and kill you. Some explode when shot, setting off a chain reaction that takes other invaders along with it. You'll also enter separate bonus rounds that task you with hitting certain invaders before time expires, rewarding you with a brief section of "fever time," where you have tons of firepower and the chance to rack up a lot of points. The point is that the game feels like it has a good variety of things to keep you on your toes.
Each of the game's stages ends with a boss fight, and the later stages come in multiple forms. Your score in the previous round is what grants you access to these different higher-end stages. This gives you a reason to keep playing the same stages more than once, as you try for better combos, more breaks, and more fever time to get a higher ranking. You can practice any stage you've previously played on in arcade mode.
Outside of arcade mode, there are a few different multiplayer modes that you can play locally or over Xbox Live. Co-op lets up to four players take on the arcade mode. It doesn't make any real changes to the game to make it harder; you just have four ships in there firing shots instead of one. Each player has a separate combo meter, which is nice, but it can get sort of chaotic. You'd have to be really organized to line up a bunch of combos and other bonuses in a four-player game. Versus games let you play to see who can survive the longest or get the highest score. These games give each player their own screen, and new power-ups appear to help you take down the opposition. These modes are really cool additions, but it's tough to play online. There don't seem to be a ton of people playing, and each game I was able to get into suffered from network issues that made the game pretty tough to enjoy.
The presentation in Space Invaders Extreme really goes a long way. The enemies maintain their same, pixelated look from the original games while the backgrounds flicker and pulsate along with the music. The backgrounds never get too distracting, and they really look great. Each stage has its own music that sort of recalls the thumping beat of the original game without relying so heavily on it that it becomes annoying. The way the beat pumps as you play almost gives the game a rhythmic quality, while the new systems in place give the game a kind of Pac-Man Championship Edition feel.
Space Invaders Extreme is a great game, but the bunk network code is a real bummer. If replaying stages for bigger combos and higher scores to unlock more stages and bonus modes sounds like your type of game, though, you'll probably get really obsessed and absolutely get your money's worth.