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Ahh... Space Invaders. The great-granddad of modern computer games, instantly familiar to gamers and non-gamers alike. Space Invaders Extreme on the DS marks the 30th anniversary of the original game and has a lot of fond memories to live up to.
You might think there isn't much you can do with Space Invaders. You sit at the bottom of the screen in your lone spaceship, whilst the invaders start at the top and gradually make their way down. Destroy them all before they reach the bottom of the screen and you move to the next level, fail and you lose a life.
Yet, whilst Extreme stays close to the original's roots, it feels very different and proving both a fantastic game in its own right and a suitable tribute to its ancestor. Whilst the look and feel of the game is instantly recognisable, plenty of new elements have been brought in to spice things up. For a start, there is a far greater variety in how the aliens look and behave. Some are your basic grunts, simply making their way slowly down the screen, some swoop down from the screen to attack you Galaxian style; others are "splitters" - shoot them and split into several smaller aliens, whilst "giant" invaders take several shots to kill and shoot a powerful laser beam that can catch out the unwary gamer. It's surprising how much variety the addition of a few simple characteristics can introduce. You're really kept you on your toes as you try and dispatch the most dangerous enemies first and this lends the game a more tactical element than the original.
Creators Square Enix, do an excellent job of staying faithful to the look and sounds of the original whilst updating them enough to appeal to modern gamers. The aliens are crisp and clear, with a pleasing variety in size and shape. Bullets and other items are clearly defined and mostly easy to spot, even when the on-screen action becomes frenetic. There's a pleasing retro feel to the game without it ever seeming "old-fashioned"
The one element which divides opinion is the addition of moving backdrops, full of swirling colours. Some gamers complain that they can be distracting, causing you to die because your attention is diverted from the enemies (excuses, excuses); some even complain they cause headaches and a slight feeling of nausea. I never experienced either problem, but you can switch off the moving backdrops in any case, if you wish to.
Sound-wise, the game is pretty basic. A slightly repetitive, but fitting "techno" tune plays throughout, whilst the rest of the sound effects are essentially a collection of laser noises and explosions. There's nothing new here and the sound effects are not particularly meaty, but they do their job. There is also a smattering of speech, but whoever recorded it speaks... so... slowly... it's... painful. She sounds like someone needs to give her a nudge with a pointy stick to get her going.
Forget graphics and sound, though. When it comes to retro games (which this effectively is), it's all about gameplay. Extreme might be based around an ancient (in gaming terms) idea, and is certainly pretty simplistic, but is fantastically addictive and will provide plenty of challenge. The action is fast and furious, with wave after wave of attack to repel. This is broken up by occasional "boss" levels (which start of pretty easy and soon become challenging) and bonus levels which give you the chance to boost your score and provide a brief respite.
Extreme is incredibly easy to pick up, but amazingly addictive. Many modern games can take half and hour or longer just to complete a level, meaning you have to set aside time to play them. Extreme is designed for mobile gaming, so can be played in short bursts or longer sessions. If you've got a spare five minutes, you'll be tempted to "just have a quick go"...but be warned such is the compelling nature of the game that the chances are you will still be there an hour later!
This is because the Gameplay is perfectly balanced. Early levels get you used to the game, introducing you to the various types of aliens and the extra weapons you can pick up, whilst the fiendish design of later levels will see you really having to be on your metal to survive. The on-screen action is often frantic, but if you die, it's always because you didn't move in time or failed to spot an enemy bullet, not because the game has "cheated". This adds to the addictive nature of the game and each time you die, you'll find yourself hitting "Retry", determined that THIS time you'll get to the next level.
Shooting wave after wave of aliens could eventually become dull, so the game has a number of different modes to keep you entertained. The standard one sees you progress through a series of levels. Here, you have unlimited continues, and when you lose all your lives, you carry on from the last level reached, rather than being sent right back to the start. The score attack mode challenges you to rack up as high a score as you can with just three lives and no continues and scores can be uploaded to an online high score table, so you can see how your skills match up against other gamers. Finally, there is a dual player mode, which can be used to play against another DS owner. I haven't used this, so can't comment on how well it works. These might only be simple variations, but they extend the longevity of the game.
From my perspective, there is only one series flaw. For a game which is all about high scores, it doesn't make it easy to find out how you are doing. The online high score table obviously requires you to be online. Yet even in standard mode, when a game ends, it's not obvious what your score is. Your score quickly vanishes and there is no indication of or how it compares with your previous scores. There is a record of the 10 best scores, but this is hidden away under the Options menu, so you actively have to look at it. Would it really have been too much to ask for your score to be displayed alongside your best scores, so you can see how (un)successful you were that time?
This one design flaws aside, Space Invaders Extreme is a brilliantly designed, addictive game and an essential addition to the collection of any DS owner. This is what mobile gaming is all about: simple, classic action ready to pick up and play at a moment's notice. And the best bit? You no longer have to have an endless supply of 10 pees to keep playing!
© Copyright SWSt 2009