Hello, Eurogamer here. Yes, the website. Tom will be along in a moment. Before we begin though, a quick message for other websites! You know how I love you lot! And you know how we all love lists! With this in mind, if you are ever making a list of the most game-breakingly appalling and awful design decisions in the history of life, do remember to include the shield in Every Extend Extra Extreme. I'm sure Tom will explain why in a minute. Anyway, see you all next week for the badminton tournament, and maybe lay off Britney Spears for a bit - it's not like we didn't sell her the drugs in the first place.
[Tom realises what is happening and seizes control of the laptop, banging it up and down until HDD Protection is enabled. The uprising is over.]
Sorry about that, Eurogamery folk. I was busy playing Every Extend Extra Extreme. Well, I say busy. You're never particularly busy when you play Every Extend Extra Extreme. Reborn on Xbox Live Arcade after a divisive turn on PSP, it's sort of the opposite of a shoot-'em-up: you position your pointy cursor in the middle of the screen, wait until lots of ambling snowflake things converge on you and then press A to detonate yourself, creating a chain reaction. The longer it lasts, and the more ambling flakes join the chain, the more points you score. This being Q Entertainment, each point on the chain makes a noise, creating a sort of abstract dance music, and the whole thing looks like a firework show.
The idea is that this part is compelling. Except it isn't. Initially (especially four pints down), it's quite thrilling to watch and hope that the position you were in when you detonated results in a decent chain, and the fireworks and dance party gets progressively more elaborate as you sit there and stare. When the chain runs out, it subsides and your cursor respawns on the screen, whereupon you're meant to vacuum up any power-ups that have been dropped. Time Extends put more time on the clock in Unlimited mode, while Quickens increase enemy movement speed and density (meaning a greater likelihood of bigger chains) and BonusX pick-ups increase your scoring potential.
But the thing is that you're doing absolutely nothing while all this goes on. You're just meant to watch. And once you reach a certain level of skill (took me 15 minutes), gathering enough Quickens and Time Extends, there's nothing to stop you kicking off chain after seemingly endless chain in perpetuity. On my first go, I got to 8 trillion points, which put me about 49th on the worldwide leaderboard. This took about two hours, and I only banked the score by deliberately killing myself out of sheer boredom. There's no sense of achievement whatsoever.
And it turns out that was me being rubbish. On a subsequent go, I lasted 1 hour and 3 minutes, reaching 20 trillion points, before putting the pad down and thumping the keyboard with phrases like "spaying yourself over and over again" and "drunken orgy for ugly particles" until the time had run down. As an added insult, it's not actually very easy to kill yourself.
So what's gone wrong? The first and biggest thing is the shield. New to Extreme, it's a 3-second bubble of invincibility that protects you from the massed ranks of floating objects just after you respawn. You can extend the shield's duration by picking up certain power-ups, and, while they are rarer than some, even without them you always have time to collect enough Time Extends and a few Quickens and BonusX icons to keep things going. Without the shield, Every Extend Extra Extreme would be much harder, because you would have to dodge around a lot to avoid dying (which resets the speed and Quicken level), and clear spaces for a safe respawn. With it, the biggest challenge is making sure you've hit the detonation button before it runs out, which is about as hard as fairy cake.
Presumably the reason the shield exists is that Every Extend Extra Extreme (I am avoiding the abbreviation "E4" because I want you to be cross) has so much going on that it would be virtually impossible to survive without it. This is a fundamental problem with the game, for which the shield serves less as a solution and more as a magnifying glass. You certainly can die, but you generally only do so if you wait too long and the shield runs out, which is just you being silly. And even if you do, there seems to be no end to the amount of lives at your disposal, and diligent collection of Time Extends will mean that building yourself back up is far from taxing. To make matters easier, the B button halts detonation, meaning that you can simply stop, harvest pickups and start again.
Fortunately there are Time Limited modes too. These allow you to tackle each of four stages with a different time limit (5, 10, 15 and 20 minutes respectively), and come with leaderboards. Which would be fine, were it not for the fact the core gameplay is so fundamentally dull, and the other fundamental problem, which is that getting a good chain reaction really isn't much to do with good positioning on the screen: once you reach a certain threshold of skill (cf earlier bracket), pretty much anywhere will do, and you have to be pretty hapless to fail at this enough for it to have any negative consequences.
Where the skill in being good enough to top said leaderboards will presumably lie is in when you choose to use the B button to halt a detonation and then start another one. After a dozen hours in the game's company, I'm sure I'm making progress at this, but I've little or no interest in probing further - not least because nobody on my friends list seems to be interested, and I'd rather compete against them than whoever it is who spent a billion hours getting his score to 160 trillion within half a day of the game going live. Something that just about anyone could achieve given enough time, because nothing ever gets harder.
The other elements of Every Extend Extra Extreme are multiplayer, a shoot-'em-up game and a bit where you can input your own music. In multiplayer, you can't see what the other person is doing, you just get a readout of their activities and a tug-of-war score bar along the top, which often forces you to end a particularly promising chain reaction before it matures because you only bank the points that go towards the tug-of-war bar when it concludes. In my experience, the person who starts off with better chains wins. The shoot-'em-up isn't much more exciting - it's 100 levels of firing bullets at the snowflake wotsits instead of detonating them, the bosses are about 15 years out of date, and the repetition is only less annoying than the main game by virtue of how astronomically dull the main game itself becomes.
There were definitely ways to salvage all this. Phasing between different graphical styles, ala Lumines, with accompanying changes in gameplay conditions, could have given it a completely different feel - and certainly staved off the frustrating repetition of the visual element. And if the shield was gone and the enemies were fewer, and more varied, it could have been a lot like an actual videogame, with a difficulty curve, rather than a bewildering ascent up a six-foot cliff onto an endless plateau of tedium.
As it is, I'm giving it a couple of points for having a demo version that will keep you occupied while you and a pal work through a couple of bottles of Sierra Valley, and a couple more for the hour or so it will take you to become an absolute world-beating master and become utterly sick of the sight of it. Frankly, I'm being generous.