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Published June 17, 2008

From Galaga to Centipede, the core mechanics of the original Space Invaders had been iterated and improved upon so often that it’s a wonder that this new “Extreme” sequel feels so fresh. Taito’s epochal arcade smash virtually invented the top-down shooter genre, but aside from a few minor retreads, it has remained dormant for decades. Well, chalk it up to the success of that wonderful Pac-Man reboot or the imminent thirtieth anniversary of the original, but Space Invaders Extreme is simultaneously a joyous celebration of the SI legacy and a fresh take on old-school blasting.

Everyone knows Space Invaders: one turret, four shields, and fifty-five alien ships whose only strategy is to “increase speed, drop down, and reverse direction” (thanks, Futurama!). Well, this “extreme” version adheres closely to the feel of the original but has abandoned the defensive structures and tight formations of the original. Shields are apparently obsolete in this day and age, so Taito saw fit to arm your turret with several new power-ups, including screen-filling lasers, bombs, and a broad shot. The alien armada also kept busy during the cease fire. Gone are the days of “trembling in terror” at their three kinds of ships. Expect to fight an updated panoply of powerful foes, including suicide bombers, teleporters, bouncers, and shielded enemies that can reflect your shots back at you.


These odds don’t seem fair…perhaps the upcoming Space Invaders Get Even is a bit redundant.

All of these new enemy types of course require new strategies, but the true genius of this production is realized when you start seeing three or four types of ships stacked together. All of the sudden, new layers of strategy come into play as you try to figure out how to take out the exploding troops without setting off the suicide bombers, or how to remove the reflective shields of some smaller baddies while a huge mother ship is besieging the stage with a tree-trunk-thick laser. Each subsequent wave forces players to adjust. Your special weapons certainly pack a punch, but what good does that do when precision is of the highest priority?

However, the game still finds opportunities for you to cut loose even in the later stages. By shooting four enemies in a row of one color, and then four of a different color (again, another wrinkle), you’ll be launched into a brief mini-game with some randomly generated task. Quick! Shoot the right ships to trigger domino-styled explosions! Collect 100 golden items from a retreating UFO! All of the sudden, this becomes the WarioWare Inc. of 2D shooters, constantly forcing you to be quick on your feet. Your reward for succeeding is “Fever Mode,” a roughly ten-second window in which you’re given obscene amounts of firepower.

Just leafing your way through the instruction manual reveals almost endless facets to what at first appears to be a simple shooter. Dual screened boss battles, roulette rounds brought to you via golden UFOs, score multipliers, a leveling up system, and branching paths à la Starfox…this game’s straightforward appearance truly belies almost limitless depth.


That screen gap is a slight annoyance during boss fights but rarely results in death.

Perhaps “straightforward appearance” isn’t fair either, because while the graphics are simple (aside from the pre-rendered background flybys through neon drenched Tokyo), there’s a musical component to the game that is reminiscent of the sublime synesthesia of Rez. There isn’t just a driving techno beat and some strobe lights here. Whenever you shoot an enemy, collect a power up, or deflect an enemy attack, the game produces a distinct musical sound that always fits to the beat. There may be a hidden component to this as well, since the top screen mysteriously keeps track of your “bass” and “chord” among other things. Speaking of bass, be sure to play with the Rumble Pack. I know that many of our readers will opt instead for the import-only paddle accessory, but the rumble here serves as a thumping bass to complement the slightly tinny musical arrangements. Fans of Rez will know how much this vibration can enhance the game play experience (and no, I’m not talking about the risible Trance Vibrator). The developers should be commended for making the most of a usually worthless feature.

So at twenty bones, you shouldn’t even be asking yourself whether or not this is worth it. This game will capture your attention in the same way that fellow throwback Geometry Wars did several years ago. With online leader boards and multiplayer*, this game will have you dropping virtual quarters for a long time to come. This is as close to an arcade revival as you are going to see.

*This review focuses on the DS version. Apparently, the PSP’s multiplayer doesn’t support infrastructure mode.

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