2008 marks the 30th Anniversary of Space Invaders. A genuine classic, its brilliance is in its simplicity. For 30 years it has entertained and challenged all ages, and the latest iteration, Space Invaders Extreme, is no exception.
A two-dimensional, vertical shooter, Space Invaders is built around a few simple ideas and mechanics. Using a laser cannon that can only move left and right, and fire straight up, you must defend a planet from the never-ending encroachment of alien invaders. In previous games these Invaders moved in block formation, back and forth across the screen, descending towards the ground, while raining fire down upon your position. As more aliens were defeated and new waves of attackers descended, the game and music would speed up.
Space Invaders Extreme shifts this up another gear, adapting the gameplay features that made the original so addictive and satisfying in new and innovative ways.
First off there are different types of Invader. You alien foes will range from the run-of-the-mill to the tiny and oversized. Others bring along armour for protection, roll sideways to present a thin target or employ panels that can reflect your shots. Some split into two or even three when damaged, while others immediately try to land when shot. The way these different types are combined in an attacking wave is what makes Space Invaders Extreme a challenge to play. It means you have to constantly react and plan, and do so quickly, to eliminate them.
Facing this alien onslaught alone may seem daunting but there are a number of power-ups and features that you can employ to turn the tide of Invaders. As you score more points, aided by successively shooting Invaders and UFOs in a Chain, your cannon will increase in power and performance. Along with your standard armament there are a number of power-ups gained by shooting down four Invaders of identical colour. Blues give you a Laser that destroys everything apart from reflecting panels, Reds give you Bombs that explode on impact and can't be reflected, while Greens provide a Broad Shot firing five bullets at once that take out multiple enemies.
UFOs, the second enemy type, are both a bane and a salvation. While they may unleash deadly Laser fire or drop Invader reinforcements, they are worth a lot more points, enabling you to increase your score quickly and in turn the power of your cannon. They're also the key to unlocking the Round features; mini-games that when successfully completed unlock Fever Time. To initiate a Round you need to complete two power-ups in a row, for example four red Invaders plus four blue Invaders. This unleashes a flashing UFO that, if taken down, begins the Round. There are a number of different challenges of varying difficulty, all of which unleash Fever Time - the Space Invaders equivalent of turning your cannon into a fully armed and operational Death Star.
Alongside the ceaseless waves of Invaders and challenging Boss battles of the single player game, is a multiplayer battle that is compellingly addictive. Three simple rules turn the game into a pitched battle between rivals: the first player to run out of cannons loses; as you shoot down Invaders they're added to your stockpile; and when you shoot a UFO your stockpile is sent to your opponent's screen. Like everything in Space Invaders it is simple and endlessly entertaining.
Space Invaders Extreme is a classic reinvented. None of the winning formula of the original has been lost or tampered with. Instead the game has undergone a renaissance with a wider range of enemies and power-ups that enhance the ideas at its core. Thirty years from now, Space Invaders Extreme will still be a joy to play.