Hey! Did you know that Space Invaders was originally inspired by Breakout? I didn't - until I looked at Space Invader's Wikipedia page in a desperate attempt to come up with an interesting fact to begin this review. As it turns out, it's not only a suitable theme for this intro, but I can use it to link to the Arkanoid DS review too. Thanks Wikipedia!
The message that can be taken from Space Invaders' humble beginning is that you can make clever use of a source's interesting aspects (in that case, rows of blocks that need to be destroyed by a craft at the bottom of the screen, and the sense of achievement from doing so) and create something unique and worthwhile in its own right. The amazing thing is that Taito has been so successful in doing this again with Space Invaders Extreme.
Space Invaders Extreme is very faithful to the most important things that make a Space Invaders game rather than just another shooter. It keeps the crab-walking enemies that encroach on the player ever-faster as their numbers are destroyed, and chooses to enhance this by featuring different formations and types of enemy rather than adding Galaxian-style swarms or any other blatant complications.
If this was all that Taito had done, other than adding a very Q Entertainment-inspired sound and graphics update, there wouldn't really be much to say about Space Invaders Extreme (though the fact that the sound effects work as part of the soundtrack is pleasant). Thankfully, it's gone a step further and added what is probably the most in-depth scoring mechanic I've seen since (wanky hardcore name-drop imminent) Radiant Silvergun.
In Space Invaders Extreme, every enemy has a colour. If you shoot four enemies of the same colour one after another, a power-up will drop that allows your ship a limited amount of time with a powered-up weapon, such as a laser or bomb. If you then shoot four enemies of a different colour (for example, if you shoot four red enemies then four blue) you'll spawn a "Flashing UFO".
Here's where things get interesting [a relief - Ed]. If you manage to shoot the Flashing UFO, you'll leave the level you were on, and go to a short mini-game in which you have a set task (for example, to shoot a UFO that's surrounded by several spinning barriers of enemies). If you complete that, you'll enter "Fever Time", where you gain a huge increase in power for a limited amount of time, allowing you to carve your enemies up with ease and receive a huge bonus.
You're also encouraged to make sure you're continuously killing enemies anyway, by the bonuses incurred by chaining kills within about three seconds of each other. You receive a score multiplier (up to x10), and if you manage to max your multiplier and then complete a Flashing UFO mini-game, you'll extend Fever Time, which might allow you to shoot enough "Jackpot UFOs" to eventually hit a "Super Jackpot UFO."
I'm sure that already sounds far too complex for anyone to keep in mind, but it's actually quite a simple rhythm to get into. Of course, I haven't even mentioned the many other ways in which you can gain more bonuses, such as by lighting up the secret requirements for each level (for example, shooting rows or columns in succession), but you can see there are an astonishing amount of different ways to maximise your score. This is especially good news for players of the Nintendo DS version, which includes an online scoreboard not included in the PSP version for who-knows-what reason.
Having said all that, though, the beauty of Space Invaders Extreme is that for all the complication beneath the surface, you can just play it like Space Invaders. Shoot all the enemies to clear the level, and move on to the next one. And by the time you reach the harder levels you'll have more than enough trouble just surviving. Cleverly, too, Space Invaders Extreme uses a branching stage system (ala Outrun) so you can exert at least some control over the difficulty you face (and therefore your eventual score.)
Even though the Nintendo DS version includes online play and scoreboards, I'm happy to recommend either system's version on the basis of whichever system you like to play more, as there's little else between them.
But if there are any complaints, it'd be that the mini-games that are played to start Fever Time are just a little repetitive and don't quite fit the rest of the game's rhythm (a shame, because if Fever Time was started by shooting a Flashing UFO, I wouldn't complain) and the bosses, while inventive, stray too much from the classic Space Invaders feel so carefully maintained elsewhere.
But these are tiny niggles, really. If you like 'clever' shooters, those that offer you a challenging and unique range of ways to reach for the highest score, I'm not sure you can do much better than Space Invaders Extreme at the moment.