Version tested: DS
Taking an old classic and buffing it up for a new generation is a road we've been down many times before - and it's a road fraught with pitfalls. The kind that jogs our rose tinted spectacles off our nose and causes them to get crushed under the wheels of this unstoppable retro bandwagon. However many times ancient arcade classics get remade, there's something so wonderfully pure and unsullied about the originals that we can't help but plead that the rights holders just let them rest in peace, forever cloaked in glorious fug of our heads.
But nostalgia sells, and yet again a once cutting-edge concept gets dragged out for a reworking and ends up leaving us with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths.
Overseeing the bank balance
At least Space Invaders Revolution had promise. For a start, Tomohiro Nishikado - the original creator of the 1978 arcade classic - had a hand in personally overseeing this so-called 're-imagining' of the all-time classic shoot 'em up.
Indeed, in the game's press release, Nishikado-san himself admits that the iterations of the franchise had "lost the spirit of the original game". Absolutely. The phrase 'grave robbing' springs to mind when we think back at some of the horrors that ave been perpetrated in the name of Space Invaders over the years.
Yet there was a little pang of excitement when we heard Nishikado-san wanted to "take the game back to its roots whilst at the same time adding features which would appeal to modern gamers." He himself even claimed proudly that "the result is a game which is as fresh as the original, but which will equally well to those too young to remember the arcade game." We only wish we could agree with such a lofty statement.
Exciting: 25 years ago
What we've actually got is a neat progression on the original, but one that would only really have ever been exciting if the year was 1980 and we were looking at the sequel that never was. In 2005 it's a game that's as basic a gaming experience as you'll find on sale today - which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on where you're coming from.
Do you ever get those moments when you're so bored with playing a game that your eyes stare so far into the screen that it goes blurry, yet you can still carry on playing? That happened a couple of times during the hours spent playing Space Invaders Revolution, prompting the need to physically snap out of it to regain our normal vision. And the reason? The gameplay's just such an anachronism in today's market; the mechanics are as old as the hills, the visuals as bland as you can imagine, the music as repetitive and plinky plonky as any sane person could be expected to tolerate, and the whole experience almost sends you into a trance. Weird.
You may have heard that you can play the game in 'Classic' or 'New Age' mode, which is par for the course for 're-imaginings' like this. Normally, the new versions are hideous travesties, but a degree of effort has been made to go one step further with the solid concept of shooting aliens out of the sky. As you'd perhaps expect Classic mode is just that. The same old Space Invaders in all its 27 year-old glory, complete with tiny graphics, the Jaws-style 'dun-dun, dun-dun' sound effects and unforgiving 'one hit and you're toast' gameplay. For a minute you can make believe you're six years old again, surrounded by cig-smoking teens with 'Baggy Trousers' by Madness blaring out in the background.
Play one to be able to play the other
The intriguing thing is, there's more than idle nostalgia at stake for playing this old shooter. If you rack up a decent score in the Classic mode, it actually goes towards granting you power-ups in the New Age version. Score 2000 points in Classic and the Speed Up ability is added (selectable in-game dependent on how much 'energy' you have left). Get 5000 and Rapid fire capabilities can be switched on. Show truly elite retro skills and other abilities such as Support, Laser, Barrier (shield) and Stop (freeze the aliens) can also be eventually be unlocked and selected. It's definitely a neat incentive to get people playing the old style version, and one we applaud.
But the trouble is, the New Age version is about as New Age as a Hippy talking about the Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and although it does structure itself in a much more coherent fashion, you are still, essentially, playing the same basic shoot 'em up as you were when you were a sproglet.
Addressing the good ideas first, the structure works pretty well, albeit in a very basic fashion. Each of the game's 20 stages is set around the world (basically overlaying the descending waves of space invaders on a static image of Big Ben, The Champs-Elysee, an Ice Field in Alaska - you get the idea), and has three waves of aliens to dispatch along the way, meaning you're not just expected to sit and play the damned thing for the sake of a high score. The difficulty ramps skywards, the ante is upped, and five stages are available at any one time - meaning you can always go and tackle one of the others if you're running into problems. Good move.
Don't be racist
The game itself tries to mix things up and offer a little more variety than before, but it's still the exact same principle of yore. For example, the game throws in white aliens that split apart if you shoot them, or makes you shoot the coloured aliens first, cloaks aliens, or throws one giant alien at you that you have to shoot all the individual pieces of before it will explode. Well, it's a revolution of sorts.
And then there are the power-ups, of course. Now, by about the halfway point you'll probably require shields, support, lasers and so on, but if that's a Revolution, we’d like to introduce Nishikado-san to Nemesis, circa 1985. Sure, you can use these power ups in tandem with one another, such as adding Laser fire to your Support cannons, or rapid fire to your support, or even rapid lasers. But as much as they add a novelty value to the basic Space Invaders gameplay, it's a bit like giving Pac-Man a jet pack and a boxing glove. In a way it feels like a bunch of unnecessary extras thrown in simply 'because they do power-ups these days, don't they?'. The game, arguably, works just as well without using power ups at all, and that's hardly an evolution, never mind a revolution
As for the borked Touch Screen controls; let's not even go there. Trying to control a space ship left and right and firing with a stylus is a bit like performing brain surgery with an oiled spoon with your feet. Having the power ups selectable on the touch screen is a nice touch, but then you realise that using the shoulder buttons to cycle between them is less death defying anyway. Pointless.
The dreaded bottom line is that we've seen it all before, and much, much better. We're not claiming to have the answers to what a 're-imagined' Space Invaders should have been, but adding a bunch of done-to-death power-ups to one of the oldest gaming concepts there is hardly seems likely to coax money out of anyone's wallet. On top of that, anyone with even a modicum of gaming skill will have cleared most of the game's 20 stages in a couple of hours, making Space Invaders Revolution one of the least recommended purchases around. To reiterate: this would have been great in 1980 as the true sequel, but a quarter of a century on it's laughable. For ageing gaming historians with nostalgia issues only.
2 / 10