Space Invaders Extreme

As appalling a thought as it may be for older gamers there's probably a sizeable minority, perhaps even majority, of gamers alive today who weren't born when the original Space Invaders first stalked the chip shops and pub corners of the world. There are people for whom the game's monotone bleeps and blurps cannot manifest a single nostalgic tear – and who have no idea who Posh Paws or Chorlton and the Wheelies are.

Everyone though, even the most wilfully ignorant of all things video game, must know the basics of how the game works: tank moves left and right at bottom of screen, tank shoots aliens, aliens move down the screen. Over the last 30 years (yes, it's been 30 years – there's even a little logo on the box to prove it) the game has undergone all manner of sequels, remakes and re-imaginings but none has ever found anything useful or innovative to do with the original concept.

If you're now waiting for the words 'until now', you'll be sadly disappointed, because Space Invaders Extreme succeeds precisely because of how little it changes. Thankfully there's not a polygon in sight and your tank remains stuck in its two dimensional rut. Only the three defensive shields (or were they buildings? It was never made clear) are oddly missing from the original set-up, and yet somehow the whole thing still manages to feel fresh and exciting.

Although they still move from left to right during their slow descent, some invaders will break formation to dive bomb you, while others will split into three when shot, turn sideways so as to appear paper (well, pixel) thin, fire diagonally or only take damage when luminous claws are unwisely extended. Or some are just really big and others very small.

Considering all Space Invaders Extreme really does is add in some simple power-ups and a combo system, it's amazing how much value it manages to get out of this most ancient of game concepts. By varying the basics in this subtle way the simple fun and addictiveness of the original game is made manifest and suddenly the last 30 years of gaming evolution are irrelevant.

The few places were the game does slip up are where it tries to be the most modern. The Lumines-style presentation, for example, isn't nearly as slick as it should be, with background animations that are rather too abstract and an only vaguely interactive soundtrack. Simply playing a hi-hat every time you shoot an alien is not going to stimulate synaesthesia in anyone.

The combo system is better, though, rewarding you for shooting invaders of the same colour, as well as those of the same shape and in the same row or column. Although again the obnoxiously permanent onscreen indicators showing you which combo is currently running might be all very trendy and postmodern, but they're no real help and just get in the way.

There's much more going on than just that though, as your ever increasing score helps your tank's laser to level-up into more destructive forms. Meanwhile, chain combos can eventually lead to 'Break' mode where you get to go on a score-multiplying rampage. The most important extras to aim for though are the good old UFOs, different colours of which will do everything from fire a giant laser at you to start a mini-game.

Again, though, there's a sudden lack of imagination when it comes to the mini-games, as you simply try and shoot a certain number of specific enemies or another heavily protected UFO. These mini-games often end up being far more damaging to your stock of lives than the rest of the game, too, with the reward of Fever mode (where both score and weapons are boosted for a short time) seldom proving enough.

The most outrageous home goal though is that this Space Invaders Extreme does not include an online multiplayer as the DS version does. Thankfully the wireless multiplayer is still masterfully entertaining, as you not only try to take pot shots at your opponent but also fill his screen with extra invaders at appropriately inappropriate moments.

The game is still a triumph then – both the best ever Space Invaders sequel and one of the best ever retro revamps – but with just a bit more spit and polish it could have been something even more. As it stands, making a 30-year-old game seem young again (and a 30-year-old gamer the very opposite) will have to do.

Space Invaders Extreme

Far better than it has any right to be after all these years - but just lacking that killer flair that would have made it a new age classic
Roger  Hargreaves
Roger Hargreaves
After being picked last for PE one too many times, Roger vowed to eschew all physical activities and exist only as a being of pure intellect. However, the thought of a lifetime without video games inspired him to give up and create for himself a new robot body capable of wielding a joystick – as well as the keyboard necessary to write for both Pocket Gamer and Teletext's GameCentral.