I recently played two very different Xbox 360 games, Gears of War 2 and Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway. Both titles main gameplay mechanic revolves around the simple concept of finding cover and shooting down the ensuing wave of enemies in the form of Nazis or alien species.
As enjoyable as both games were, their structure undeniably pays homage to one of the oldest ambassadors of videogames, Space Invaders, which is by no means a bad thing. While many rightfully credit Super Mario Bros. as the saviour of the games industry following the crash of ’83, Space Invaders influence on popular culture and on the modern shooter should not be forgotten.
So how does one keep Space Invaders relevant today in a world of HD this and 1080p that? Easy. Spruce it up with flashy, bright, neon, Lumines-inspired presentation. Add a pumping electronic soundtrack, make the gameplay faster than Speedy Gonzales on crack, throw in loads of power ups, and of course, add the word EXTREME to it. You know, for the kids.
If you’ve played any of the millions of Space Invaders games out there then you’ll know that all that is required is to strafe left and right and gun down the descending alien threat. Yet despite its unapologetic simplicity, such simplicity leads to an addictiveness and a “one more go” feeling that is as strong today as it was when the original caused a 100-Yen coin shortage.
Over the years, though, the invaders have learned a trick or two. They’ll swoop and scuttle across the screen, break off into separate formations to make it harder to shoot them, and turn on their sides to make themselves stick thin (literally), which in turn makes it harder to kill them.
Additionally, there are now bullet reflecting shields, diagonal bullet firing aliens, some who even drop from the top screen suddenly and try to crush you. They’ve even evolved to the point where specific invaders can counter your power ups, power ups that can be collected by eliminating four of the same coloured invaders in a row.
For an update, the package is fairly stacked, score attack, time attack, online play, and leader boards are all included. Some additional mini-games also fit in perfectly with the main game and don’t detract from the overall experience, the focus of which is still the old school gameplay. While being over three decades old, the simplicity of style still shines through despite all the flashy presentation and retro chic.
As far as bringing a series into the modern age while retaining what made it so appealing in the first place, Space Invaders Extreme 2 is an unprecedented success and a blueprint for remaking classics that other developers would do well to follow.
Though new entrants in this series might no longer promote the same level of interest and excitement associated with a new Mario, the fact that the series is still going some 31 years later, (which is practically pre-historic in video game terms) is an achievement well worth celebrating. It is a testament to both original creator Tomohiro Nishikado and Project Just for its efforts in successfully reinvigorating the series, and its vindication is that often the simplest ideas are the best.