It's never easy to update a classic game. For every New Super Mario Bros. or Pac-Man: Championship Edition, there's an Alien Syndrome, Battlezone Evolved or Shinobi. It's a balancing game trying to keep both old school gamers and brand new gamers excited about an old title, especially when the game in question is something as monumental as Space Invaders. This is not the kind of game where you can just slap a new coat of paint on; the developer has to figure out a way of keeping the spirit of the original game, all while making the game relevant for the 21st century.
I'll be honest with you, I was skeptical going in to this review. While I appreciate the importance of the original Space Invaders, I have never been one of those fanatical people who will swear by it. For me the game was always too slow and repetitive, I preferred faster paced shoot-em-ups, like Thunder Force 3, R-Type and Darius R. In the past Taito has tried to resurrect the Space Invaders franchise, but for whatever reason none of the sequels or spin-offs managed to impress quite like the original game. But all that has changed, because if there's justice in this world then gamers of all ages will run out to the stores and buy one of the best portable games of the year.
Don't be fooled by the stupid name and crazy backwards letters, Space Invaders Extreme [sic] is a phenomenal update to the 1978 game. Scratch that, Space Invaders Extreme may be the best retro resurrection since Pac-Man: Championship Edition. This is a game that takes the flavor of the original game and adds so many new concepts and ideas that I wouldn't be surprised if other companies don't start putting out similar updates. And best of all, for the first time ever I have played a Space Invaders game that doesn't feel slow and repetitive.
Space Invaders Extreme starts out like any other classic shooter; you're a small triangular space ship that sits at the bottom of the screen moving left and right. Above you (or rather, in front of you) are row after row of space aliens, all working their way to the bottom of the screen. If all this sounds familiar then you clearly remember the original Space Invaders, because for the first few minutes you'll think that you're playing that 30 year old game.
But it won't take long before you see how much deeper this reboot is. Essentially you're doing the same thing that you did 30 years ago, only this time around the rules have changes, there are a ton of different challenges, crazy new power-ups and end level bosses. And we haven't even started talking about the aliens yet. While Taito could have drawn up some polygonal alien creatures that spew acid and explode into a pile of green goo when hit, but instead they chose to keep the simple design of the original game. But don't be fooled by their appearance, because this time around these aliens come in all different colors and sizes. Before the end of the game you'll run into gigantic aliens, tiny aliens, green aliens, red aliens, shielded aliens and more. The game is constantly throwing new types of aliens at you, all while you're zipping around the bottom of the screen dodging fire and picking up power-ups.
Instead of just dropping power-ups randomly, Space Invaders Extreme rewards you for shooting a four aliens of the same color in a row. If you are able to do that then a colored square will drop giving you one of the new powers. While these new powers will only last for a few seconds, there's no denying how cool they are. There's this feeling you get when you first pick up the blue laser (a giant, constant laser stream that shoots all the way to the top of the screen, killing everything it comes in contact with) that will remind you of how awesome a 2D shoot-em-up can be. And to toss in the wrinkle that you now have to actively plan on how to get power-ups is ingenious.
It's not just the powerful power-ups that will impress; it's the sheer amount of cool bonus stages that you will get warped into. These bonus stages are played for points, so you needn't worry about dying or losing your power-up. While going into a bonus round the game will ask you to perform a task (shoot a certain amount of one color, pick up a certain amount of items, etc.) and then give you a time limit. If you can beat these challenges you'll be given bonus points and an upgraded weapon, fail them and you're back where you started. What's cool about these bonus-stages is how they change up the gameplay, for example, some of the bonus level make the bottom surface slippery, forcing your space ship to move to the sides uncontrollably. It's that sort of thing that plays on the Space Invader convention in a new and interesting way, some of these bonus stages are the highlights of this brand new game.
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