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Space Invaders Extreme (PSP) artwork

Space Invaders Extreme (PSP) review

"Special weapons add a lot of strategy to the game and are perhaps the most exciting change. Any time you slaughter four aliens of the same hue in succession, you'll receive a corresponding special shot. This is attached to a meter that quickly drains, but while you are supercharged you can unleash a triple-wide shot (green), explosive shells (red) or a devastating laser beam (blue)."

Thirty years ago, Taito made a name for itself with Space Invaders. The idea behind that original game is simple: aliens are invading and you must stop them. This is accomplished by sliding back and forth along the bottom of the screen, firing bursts of ammunition when you're not busy dodging the opposition's firepower. Shields complicate matters slightly, in that you can't be harmed while behind them but also can't do much to ward off the extra-terrestrial menace and its inexorable approach. Sound familiar?

Most of us who have been playing video games for awhile have at one point or another--and possibly many--tried to do the impossible and ward off the invasion. There's something to be said for the simplistic design, for the lack of ambiguity. The simple premise has remained endearing for ages and has occupied its share of arcades, pizza parlors and bowling alleys. Now Space Invaders Extreme has arrived and suddenly it's obvious just how long a high-quality reboot has been due.

The most obvious difference between this update and the original version of Space Invaders is a change in enemy formation. The aliens no longer line up in those familiar and generally ineffective rows. There's some of that, sure, but they're not sticklers for something that clearly isn't working. As a result, you never quite know how they'll come at you next. There could be three squadrons, side-by-side. Or perhaps they'll form three rows stretching from one side of the screen to the other.

Along with the new formations, there are new aliens. Most of them are classically shaped, but now they're also color coded for your slaying pleasure. They've mastered new attacks, too. So it is that you'll sometimes witness the unexpected as some of them dive bomb you in Galaga fashion, or as a hulking behemoth appears on-screen and unleashes a spread shot (or worse, a laser). The constant changes go a long way toward keeping things fresh, as do boss battles.

Space Invaders Extreme is divided into five stages. There are actually multiple ways through the game and these become available as you clear certain routes. Whatever method you take to go from start to finish, you'll run into a magnificent adversary at the end of each level. The first one is simple enough--just shoot at the red blocks within his wriggling mass and you'll send him into oblivion--but subsequent ones force you to use ingenuity. For example, one has pods raining down around it. Attacking the shielded base of the boss will just send your own armaments careening back toward you in an inconvenient fashion, but dishing out damage to the pods can cause them to fire on their leader. Neat.

Stages grow progressively difficult with each one you finish, and points are tallied as you go. If you die, you can restart at the beginning or you can continue from the level where you met your untimely end. This will outfit you with a fresh supply of ships. Until you get really good, that's certainly the best option. There are just too many alien hordes for you to hope to blaze through them all in one go unless you're some sort of prodigy. That's true in spite of your stock of special weapons.

You didn't seriously think Taito was done tweaking the formula, did you?

Special weapons add a lot of strategy to the game and are perhaps the most exciting change. Any time you slaughter four aliens of the same hue in succession, you'll receive a corresponding special shot. This is attached to a meter that quickly drains, but while you are supercharged you can unleash a triple-wide shot (green), explosive shells (red) or a devastating laser beam (blue). Less frequently, you can cause a shadowy clone of your ship to appear and follow just behind, effectively producing a double shot.

The special weapons can often cut a pleasing swath through most of your adversaries, but some of the aliens are capable of holding out quite awhile even if you're pouring lasers on them. Others, meanwhile, are especially susceptible... to the point where a quick blast can set off a chain reaction that ripples through their ranks and wipes the screen of any resistance. At first you might fire indiscriminately, but you'll soon learn that the path to success is paved by careful planning and precision shots, not random bursts of ammo. As always, you'll survive longest if you quickly reduce the number of angles from which resistance can come (since the number one death still seems to be sliding sideways into a descending shot you were too busy to notice).

Bonus stages are a great way to arm yourself for harsh conflicts. In the original Space Invaders, you would sometimes see enemy cargo ships passing overhead. These could be shot for bonus points and that was the end of the story. In Space Invaders Extreme, though, it's only the beginning. Now there are a few varieties. Some will rain laser blasts or bullets down on you (never good) and some will simply flash bright colors. Shooting those will trigger one of several bonus areas, and completing their requirements will allow you to return to action with even beefier special weapons that last longer than the usual ones. Sometimes you can take out a few waves before they deactivate.

Those all-important bonus stages usually revolve around shooting a bunch of enemies within a time limit. Sometimes you'll slip and slide around a great deal and find this objective more difficult than others. Sometimes there are lasers to avoid, or you have to target a specific point on each formation. Your assignment doesn't seem to be consistent, so you never quite know what to expect next. Sometimes the time limits can be difficult to beat, too, so the extra areas are just as much an adrenaline rush as any other portion of the game.

With so many changes to the core formula, Space Invaders Extreme could easily have been a disaster. Why fix what isn't broken, right? However, this new release simply shows how archaic the original has become. While maintaining a pleasing retro flavor, Taito's 30th anniversary reboot provides a compelling update of a classic experience. It's still not the sort of game that you'll likely want to play for hours on end, but given the host of positive changes and reasonable price, it's also one that you won't want to miss.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 23, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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