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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Space Invaders Extreme (PSP)
This is a nearly flawless title that updates the classic title with contemporary elements without losing the essence of its appeal. Mixing the trademark play mechanics with ingenious mini-games, smarter enemy formations, boss battles, tons of power-ups and new layers of strategy makes this version of Space Invaders Extreme feel reinvograted, fresh and innovative. Addictive as a solo experience, the game is even better playing against a friend in its brilliant online Wi-Fi mode. Add a techno beat, psychedelic visuals and franchise's classic play mechanics, and you have a title that's definitely worth playing for classic and contemporary players.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Taito's classic Space Invaders in fine style, Space Invaders Extreme for Sony's PSP handheld does a superb job of bringing the series up-to-date without losing the essential gameplay mechanics that have made the series so iconic. The basics should be familiar - players control a lone cannon at the bottom of the screen and the objective is to clear all the invaders before they reach the bottom of the screen. In addition, players have to look out for mother-ships that scroll across the top of the screen sporadically. As in the original they're much more valuable than the standard invaders but this time around, they're more active. They can shoot massive beams at the player, or do sneaky things like release additional invaders. However, shooting them can also release new power-ups. The basics of SEI's gameplay will sound familiar to veteran players, but the developers have added enough twists and updates, that this updated edition of Space Invaders feels like an almost entirely new experience. To make things more challenging, there are no shields at the bottom of the screen to hide behind, which immediately ups the ante. Instead of monotonous waves of predictable invaders moving in the same patterns, there are multiple waves that appear in different forms and styles which makes for a more sophisticated design. 

Players will also discover that the AI has been improved in many areas, which makes avoiding the enemy shots all the more challenging. There are different types of invaders, each of which requires a different strategy to defeat. Some are fairly easy to defeat while others have shields which you need to shoot multiple times to break through them. The invaders themselves are now color-coded as well, and shooting a chain of same-colored foes unleashes power-ups and special attacks. These include multiple range shots, cannons, bombs and lasers that players can use to wipe out entire rows and columns of invaders. These create even longer chains, where scores can be multiplied out even further. There are even special weapons which allow you to destroy almost the entire screen of aliens in a single shot. As you play through the game, your chains are tracked, and continually shooting your foes adds a multiplier to your score and can eventually lead to increased powers for your ship. It's not as easy as it sounds, but between the color-coded enemies and chains, Space Invaders Extreme adds several layers to the classic shooting experience that makes thing much more strategic.

Each level is divided into several waves of foes that you must defeat in order to unlock the mini-games, special stages and boss battles. These manic mini-games give you a specific objective, such as shooting a certain number of aliens before the timer runs out, destroying all the enemies of a certain type with seemingly endless variations on patterns, approaches and tasks adding up to an even more varied and challenging game. In addition, there are 'fever' stages to break up the action with hyper-kinetic action, multiple chains and incredibly fast action. These stages are excellent additions to the gameplay and lend Extreme an even more manic pace that makes for an even more addictive experience. At the end of each level, players face off against a boss character, or characters that they must destroy in order to progress to the next level. It's not as simple as it sounds, especially when you consider the fact that losing these boss stages means you have to begin the entire stage anew. This adds a layer of strategy to the experience, where you have to avoid becoming distracted by each stage and instead conserve your ships for the end battles. The game's pacing is much faster than the original game, and on many levels more closely resembles the style and approach of recent retro style games like Lumines and Geometry Wars. While this approach isn't strictly old-school, by borrowing from these games, Space Invaders Extreme feels contemporary and modern. This bite-sized gameplay is also perfectly-suited to handheld play, allowing for short bursts of intense action with plenty of save points. The game allows you to save after each stage, so you can pick up right where you left off.

While the gameplay mechanics borrow from recent retro titles, the game's aesthetics and visuals also present a modern feel. Gone are the strictly black-and-white visuals of the 1978 original, which have been replaced by a modern, techno sheen. Hyper kinetic backdrops and a thumping techno score make for a modern look, though the invaders themselves retain their original pixilated form. This approach works nicely, giving players a sense of the familiar while moving the series forward visually. The game's HUD is quite sleek, with a post-modern, internet infused approach to the menus and score that looks sharp and stunning, with excellent visual design throughout. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but players should be able to adjust to the more active screen, and for those that can't, you can turn off the background animations and replace them with a static screen. This allows you to concentrate on the sterling gameplay without distraction. SIE's techno-approach extends to the animation and movements of the aliens, which are quite smooth. The multi-sized enemies and boss creatures allow for plenty of visual variety, and each stage's unique look and music helps to keep things from becoming monotonous. Players will find an array of special effects that makes the action explode off the screen in waves of color and light. For example, instead of merely disappearing when zapped, the aliens explode in waves of shrapnel, that goes off the edges of the screen. This adds a layer of visual excitement and fidelity to the action that gives Space Invaders Extreme a vivid and consistent look. All of these elements combine to make a single-player experience that's quite intense and exciting,

Despite the glaring omission of not including the original game in emulated form, which is a glaring oversight for an anniversary edition, Space Invaders Extreme is still one of the better remakes to come along recently. It's classic play mechanics have been tweaked with a variety of mini-games, boss battles and new strategic, puzzle-like elements that brings the series forward without losing its essential appeal. It's hyper visual visual style and techno soundtrack adds to the contemporary, 21st century feel, effectively bridging the gap between nostalgia and modernity. Taito (and publishers Square-Enix) deserve credit for releasing this smartly designed update. Those who grew up with the original will probably appreciate the changes and updates the most, while younger players without those memories will probably find much to enjoy in the game's frenetic, quick burst action. Space Invaders Extreme delivers a surprisingly intense and exciting experience that builds on and should enhance the reputation of one of electronic gaming's most iconic and enduring franchises.
- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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