There's something to be said for growing old gracefully. There comes a time when you just have to concede that you're just too old to wear trendy sneakers with drainpipe jeans and your thinning hairline simply cannot be coaxed into a scruffy-looking 'indie' hairdo. Alas, when you reach this point in your life you being to realise that you have no option but cast aside childish things and become a lot more sensible.
Thankfully, no one seems to have passed this advice onto Taito's Space Invaders. The seminal arcade hit from 1978 is instantly recognisable all over the globe but rather than be content to remain a fondly-loved relic of the past, this legendary videogame has kicked off its comfy footwear, binned the cord trousers and jumped head first into the modern era.
Welcome to the eclectic world of Space Invaders Extreme.
At first glance you might be fooled into thinking that things haven't changed that much since Taito unleashed this coin-guzzling classic on the unsuspecting arcade patrons of the late '70s; the visual style is very similar, with the iconic Invader sprites looking just as unthreatening as they did thirty years ago.
The gameplay is also reasonably faithful to the original. You control a single space ship anchored to a horizontal plane of movement at the bottom of the screen. Enemies swoop down from the upper reaches of the display spraying plasma death as they attempt to reduce your plucky little craft to dust. It's your job to wipe out these nefarious xenomorphs as quickly as possible, scoring as many points as you can in the process.
However, although it all sounds rather familiar, to call this a mere 'update' is to do the game a massive disservice; Space Invaders Extreme serves as the perfect example of how to take an existing concept and bring it crashing and blasting into the 21st century.
The first major change you're likely to notice is the timely introduction of power-ups, which handily augment the offensive prowess of your ship. These are acquired by shooting groups of the same coloured enemies and range from deadly laser beams to shots that explode upon impact, taking out several foes at once. The caveat to all this item-related tomfoolery is that their effect only lasts a few seconds, after which your cannon reverts to its default power setting.
Space Invaders veterans will also instantly recognise that although the aim is the same, the actual gameplay is structured very differently. Attack waves rush by much faster and there are even boss battles and numerous complex score multipliers to contend with. Also, at certain points in the game messages flash up with specific instructions, and should you successfully carry these out then you're transported to a screen where the opportunity to rack up extra points awaits.
Such is the speed and intensity of the gameplay that it makes the original game look positively pedestrian in comparison; the screen is literally awash with gloriously chaotic action as you sweep from side to side spewing firepower at the oncoming foes. The cool ability to chain together different coloured invaders and improve your score adds a strategic element to this anarchy and will no doubt delight high-score addicts.
Taking all of these embellishments into account it's clear that while Space Invaders Extreme certainly keeps one foot in the past but it's proudly (and some would say wisely) stepped into the future as well, picking up many shooter conventions that have been commonplace for the last two decades.
All of this interstellar blasting malarkey is accompanied by an excellent techno-tinged soundtrack that effortlessly weaves itself into the action. For example, on each stage your laser emits a different sound in keeping with the soundtrack. Taito has wisely kept many of the other classic sound effects though, and these not only serve to strengthen ties with the '78 original, but also sound exceptionally 'retro-cool'.
As if all this wasn't enough, the developer has thoughtfully incorporated abundant online features, too. The head-to-head multiplayer mode is simplistic but incredibly addictive; playing via the local connection or online, you can take on a human opponent in a heated battle to be the last person standing. This already tantalising concept is made even more appealing by the fact that you can hurl enemies onto your rival's screen to throw them off balance.
This mode alone is enough to keep you coming back for more, but thankfully it doesn't end there. The inclusion of online leader boards should encourage even the most mild-mannered of gamers to better their score and prove to the masses what a steady aim they possess.
If you were going to find fault with the game you could point out that at only five levels long, the single-player campaign isn't going to provide much in the way of challenge. Also, it could be argued that the top display of the DS isn't used to its full potential and that the overwhelming number of different score multipliers can often confuse and befuddle beginners, but to be honest these are fairly lightweight complaints when set against the sheer brilliance of the gameplay and the comprehensive online feature set.
Many developers struggle to update classic games because they alter too much and lose sight of what made the original title so beloved to begin with; fortunately that is most definitely not the case with Space Invaders Extreme. Taito has crafted a loving tribute to one of videogaming's most famous brands and has presented the perfect way to celebrate three decades of arcade shooting brilliance.
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