You probably think there isn’t much you can do with Space Invaders – a game so universal that it surely requires no introduction. Yet, the developers Space Invaders Extreme on the Nintendo DS have done an excellent job in proving you wrong.
They have also done a fantastic job of creating a game that stays close to its roots whilst simultaneously feeling like a very different game. Graphically, it’s instantly recognisable as Space Invaders but features plenty of new gameplay elements to spice things up. For a start, there is much more variety in how the aliens look and behave. Basic grunts just make their way slowly down screen in traditional Space Invaders style; others swoop down to attack you Galaxian-style; some are “splitters” – shoot them and they break down into several smaller aliens; whilst “giant” invaders take several shots to kill and shoot a powerful laser beam that can catch out the unwary gamer. Simple additions, certainly; but it’s surprising how much they add.
The one element which divides opinion is the addition of moving backdrops, full of swirling colours. Some gamers complain that they can be distracting, causing you to die because your attention is diverted from the enemies (excuses, excuses); some complain they cause headaches and a slight feeling of nausea. I never found either to be an issue, but that’s where graphics can very much come down to personal preferences. Anyway, you can switch off the moving backdrops if you wish to.
Sound-wise, the game is pretty basic. A repetitive, but pulsating tune plays throughout, and there’s the usual collection of laser noises and explosions that you’ expect. I found the speech mildly irritating mainly because whoever recorded it speaks… so… slowly… it’s… painful. She sounds like someone needs to give her a nudge with a pointy stick to get her going. Again though, that’s a personal thing
As with its predecessor though, the sound and graphics aren’t important: it’s the gameplay that counts. Extreme’s basic idea might pretty ancient idea, and simplistic, but it’s fantastically addictive and provides plenty of challenge. The action is fast and furious, broken up by occasional “boss” levels (which start off pretty easy and soon become challenging) and bonus levels which give you the chance to boost your score and provide a brief respite from the at times insane action.
As with the original game, Extreme is easy to pick up but difficult to put down. It’s perfectly designed for either gaming on the move in short bursts, or more prolonged periods of playing. If you’ve got a spare five minutes, you’ll be tempted to “just have a quick go”…but be warned: the game is so compelling that the chances are you will still be there an hour later!
Extreme’s level design is extremely well balanced. Early levels get you used to the game, alien types and weapons, whilst the fiendish design of later levels require real skill and concentration to survive. The on-screen action is often frantic, but if you die, it’s always because you didn’t move in time or failed to spot an enemy bullet, not because the game was unfair. This adds to the addiction levels because each time you die, you’ll find yourself hitting “Retry”, determined that THIS time you’ll get to the next level.
Shooting wave after wave of aliens could eventually become dull, so the game has a number of different modes to keep you entertained. The standard one sees you progress through a series of levels. Here, you have unlimited continues, and when you lose all your lives, you carry on from the last level reached, rather than being sent right back to the start. The score attack mode challenges you to rack up as high a score as you can with just three lives and no continues. Finally, dual player mode can be used to play against another DS owner (although I haven’t tried this). Again, these are only simple variations, but they add to the level of challenge and the game’s longevity.
If I had to point out the game’s biggest flaw, it would be in the handling of scores. For a game that’s all about scoring points, it doesn’t make it easy to find out how you are doing. The online high score table obviously requires you to be online. Yet even in standard mode, when a game ends, it’s not obvious what your score is. Your score quickly vanishes and there is no indication of or how it compares with your previous scores. There is a record of the 10 best scores, but this is hidden away under the Options menu, so you have to know it’s there. Would it really have been too much to ask for your score to be displayed alongside your best scores, so you could quickly and easily compare your last game with your best ones?
Score flaw aside, Space Invaders Extreme is an addictive game and an essential addition to the collection of any DS owner. This is what mobile gaming is all about: simple, classic action ready to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. And it’s an excellent tribute and update of a classic game at the same time.