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Platforms: Nintendo DS, Sony PSP - DS version reviewed.
Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of retro remakes. I've enjoyed the odd spot of Galaxians or Defender in an emulator, but in most cases giving an old classic a modern makeover only makes the limitations of the gameplay more apparent. While there's no doubt that blasting wave after wave of aliens maintains a strong, primitive appeal, there are good reasons why most of us would prefer to spend our time playing Guitar Hero, Call of Duty 4 or Race Driver: GRID instead of, say, Phoenix, Bezerk or Pole Position.
This might explain why Space Invaders Extreme has spent the last couple of weeks loitering on my desk, waiting for me to pick it up and give it a chance. I'm glad I did. This is one of those rare retro remakes that takes the original game and rebuilds it, brick by brick, into a new and wonderful form. It still feels like Space Invaders. It still has all the iconic visual elements of Space Invaders. Yet, all the same, it's a more varied, more exciting, and more deeply engaging game. The fact that it comes from Square-Enix, the home of Final Fantasy, is slightly odd, but who cares when the results are so cracking?
It's not hard to see where the aesthetics have been pinched from. While waves of blocky invaders still troop down from the top of the screen in time-honoured fashion, the psychedelic backgrounds and bright neon colours instantly bring to mind Geometry Wars, Tempest 2000 and the Japanese 'schmups' of Kenta Cho. The sound effects are designed to key in with the pounding electronic soundtrack, creating a single, interactive soundscape just like Rez, Everyday Shooter or Lumines. It's still Space Invaders, yet it looks and sounds effortlessly cool and modern. Plug in your headphones, head somewhere where you can block out the rest of the world, and enjoy.
And they don't call it Space Invaders Extreme for nothing. You knew where you were with the old invaders. They slowly waddled in neat rows from left to right, getting faster as they neared the ground. Occasionally a high-scoring mothership made its stately way across the screen, and all you had to worry about was popping out from beneath your protective bunkers to shoot the aliens with your slow-moving bullets while dodging theirs. Space Invaders was never as tough on the reflexes as Defender or Galaxians. The pace ratcheted up as the waves went by, but it was only in the last few seconds, as the final survivors made their last-ditch, high-speed assault on the ground, that any sense of panic set in. The invaders were, it must be said, a little dozy and predictable.