Consider my mind blown.
Space Invaders is iconic when it comes to video games. Not only was it one of the earliest shooting games to hit the arcades, but the alienoids themselves have become pop-culture symbols. It was Space Invaders, in fact, that got beloved developer Shigeru Miyamoto into gaming. Thirty years have passed since the invaders found their way into the arcades, though, so Taito had to find a new way to keep the game relevant.
Enter Space Invaders Extreme. This software retains all the basics from the arcade classic: you shoot approaching invaders with a laser cannon as they make their way to the bottom of the screen. Yet, every facet of the game has been given an "extreme" makeover (in a good way). From the visuals, to the audio, to the gameplay itself, Taito has managed to make the game incredibly deep for an arcade shooter.
Even superficially, this title is something to be lauded. Before you get a feel for the intricacies of the gameplay, it's the presentation of Space Invaders Extreme that will hook you. Screens and videos unfortunately don't evidence this well, because when you're removed from the game, everything just seems chaotic. Then, after experiencing it firsthand, you really get it. It's like a sensory explosion. The bright colors and neon backgrounds keep your eyes entertained and focused, but the same can be said for the sound effects and music. Think of Space Invaders Extreme as Space-Invaders-meets-Rez; the trippy visuals are a great way to stimulate the senses, but it's really the musically-integrated sound effects that take the game to another level.
While these things will draw you in, it's the gameplay that will keep you playing. If you're familiar with some arcade classics, you'll know that the driving force behind such games is the player's score. Now, I don't consider myself the type of gamer that gets all competitive over scores. For me, beating a level is usually reward enough. But that's just it -- there are many stages you can only unlock by getting enough points on the previous level. Also, the more difficult a stage is to unlock, the more difficult it'll be, as each stage has different variations with different degrees of difficulty.
My first foray into the game led to many deaths and low scores, but getting better is about more than improving skills and reaction time -- that's where the depth comes in. Browsing through the instruction manual will teach you how to rack up more points, how to get the power-ups you want, how to reach bonus stages, and so forth. Of course, knowing how to do something and actually doing it are completely different beasts; even when you feel comfortable with the ins and outs of the game, the execution itself is still challenging. There will also be plenty of things you need to figure out for yourself, like how to take out bosses, so don't worry about the fun of the unknown being sucked out of the game. Furthermore, you never know what to expect from your enemies; with varying formations and a plethora of different enemy types, you'll constantly be seeing something new.
As for the controls, here's where things get tricky. One of the many great things about Space Invaders Extreme is that it's available for the budget price of $19.99. If you decide to import a paddle controller, though, you're tacking on an extra $25 dollars or so to your purchase. This gives you two options for the game – the first being to forget about the paddle, and play with the buttons and D-pad. Rest assured, this control scheme works fine. It's not ideal, and may even feel slightly clunky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a non-issue.
On the other hand, if you do pony up for the paddle, you'll love the game that much more. With the paddle, you play the game as it's meant to be played. It also makes the game slightly easier, as you can move the cannon back and forth more quickly. There's no doubt that this is the more comfortable scheme, and if you can afford it, it's worth the expense. Knowing that the paddle might give certain players an unfair advantage, though, you're unable to use it in Ranking Mode.
Aside from three single-player modes (Arcade Mode, Stage Mode, and Ranking Mode), Space Invaders Extreme offers lots of multiplayer goodness. Single-cart wireless play is definitely a delight, as is the ability to play using Nintendo's WFC. If you don't have a buddy to play with, you can also practice the multiplayer gameplay against the computer.
The multiplayer levels are less visually stimulating than the ones in the single-player modes, but it's still fun to see which player can outlast the other (the first player to run out of stock cannons loses). You can view your opponent in the top screen, or just focus on your own game in the bottom screen. You can also build up invader armies to attack your opponent by shooting down UFOs.
What ultimately makes Space Invaders Extreme work is the combination of features and enjoyable elements. Throw them all together, and you'll find something quite amazing. Keeping that in mind, let's recap the basics:
Controls: As stated above, the paddle controller makes the game easier, more natural, and more fun. Even without it, though, the D-pad and button scheme is still enjoyable -- just not as much.
Visuals: The visuals are simply stunning. After testing out Space Invaders Extreme with the visual effects turned off (as the game gives you the option to do), you can really see how much they add to the experience. Mixing the effects with the brightly colored and classically shaped sprites is a winning combination.
Sound: This is one of the best features of the game. While you play, you also feel like you're making music, because the sound effects tie in with the electronic soundtrack.
Story: Arcade games weren't known for stories back in 1978, and Taito didn't add an unnecessary plot just for the sake of having a story. Aliens are invading, you shoot them down -- that's all you need to know.
Difficulty: Space Invaders Extreme is most definitely challenging, especially as you progress further and further into the game. Keep in mind that you not only face the challenge of surviving, but you also must score well to unlock certain stages.
Final Score: 9.0/10 -- The paddle controller adds some extra oomph to Space Invaders Extreme, and this final score would be even higher if it actually came with the game. The game still has a lot to offer in its default state, though, especially at a budget price. The amazing audiovisual effects, exciting gameplay, and vast multiplayer options alone make this title worth picking up, with or without the paddle.