From the instant I first played it, I was a fan of Lumines. Actually, I pretty much picked up a PSP entirely for that game, and even with its recent rehash on Xbox Live, I still contend it was worth it for the amount of time I put in. Tetsuya Mizuguchi clearly has a gift for making music an integral part of the gameplay experience. He also has an uncanny ability to turn a simple, compelling gameplay premise into something hypnotic and almost meditative, solely through extremely slick presentation.
If we only regard the games of Mizuguchi that fit into this mould (thus leaving aside games like Ninety Nine Nights and Sega Rally Championship), it seems clear that there are three distinct game genres to which he’s applied his talents. First, there’s the rhythm genre. Space Channel 5 fits into this category. Next we have puzzle games. Lumines, Meteos, and the soon to be released Gunpey lie here. Finally, we have shooters.
When I first played it, Rez took me by surprise. I was into electronic music and art and gaming. I had read plenty about the game. I preordered it. But still, when I got it home and fired it up for the first time, I wasn’t really prepared for the experience. There was, and remains, something extremely interesting about the concept of a dynamic rail shooter. Since changing enemy placement in such a game would be nearly impossible, why not, then, alter the graphics based on performance? Why not add highlights of sound based on timing?
The news that Mizuguchi would be returning to shooters definitely made me perk up my ears. In some ways, Every Extend Extra is more visceral than Rez. It’s certainly more variable. But that variability is both a blessing and a curse. Every Extend Extra is a repackaging, of sorts, of the freeware game Every Extend, a game which turned the shooter convention of “blast anything that moves” somewhat on its ear. The main conceit is to detonate oneself. The player is, in essence, attempting to be a suicide bomber, a kamikaze pilot in a wall of sound and elegant graphics.
The player starts with a set number of lives, and moves around via the analog stick. Enemies emerge on the screen. A life is lost every time the player explodes, which can happen either involuntarily (by crashing), or at the touch of a button. If you crash unintentionally, you suffer a time penalty, and a loss in “quicken”, a measure of the pace of the game. In the case of the latter, a blast is emitted from the player’s ship, and anything in its radius explodes as well, causing a chain reaction. These chain reactions accrue points, and when certain point thresholds are reached, an extra life (or “extend”) is earned. This mechanic, coupled with a time limit, lend the game a tense aura that will be familiar to fans of timing and movement based puzzle and shooter games.
Further adding to the strategy of the game are certain enemies that leave behind items as they are dispatched. There are time extend power ups, power ups that immediately explode with a larger wake than normal, and most interestingly, those that contribute to “quicken”. Collecting these powerups increases the speed of the game. Because of the time limit, it’s actually in the players’ advantage to have the game be going as fast as possible, so that more enemies come by. Since enemy movement patterns are random, it may take some time to find a particular configuration of them that will yield enough points to make a detonation worth it, and the faster the game goes, the more likely this is to occur. This is particularly important in boss fights. This balance between what is beneficial to the player in theory and what is difficult to navigate in practice is a tense, unique, and interesting one.
At set intervals, bosses appear, and must be dealt with by attacking with chain explosions of a minimum number. Although fitting with the game in theory, this requirement is actually somewhat difficult to achieve in practice. It seems the game requires you to have that number of explosions occur before the boss is hit, something that led me, on multiple occasions, to exclaim out loud, “But there were 20 explosions in that chain!”
Each of the 9 stages basically puts a unique skin on the action. This can take some adjusting, but it’s really not all that distracting once you get used to it. There have been some complaints in the game journalism media about how distracting all the eye candy is, but if you expect anything less from a Q Entertainment puzzler, it seems as though you’ve missed the point. These games are meant to be both tense and hypnotic, and Every Extend Extra succeeds on this front. That said, it does suffer from one of the main problems of Lumines: the fact that the order in which the skins play is static. For all the other randomness in the game, it would have been nice to have the progression through the skins be somewhat dynamic, particularly since they have no real bearing on the difficulty of play.
The other problem with Every Extend Extra has to do with the barrier for entry. It certainly offers some pick-up-and-playability. However, it takes quite a while to become proficient at the game. By the time that occurs, it is very possible to lose interest. Generally speaking, shooters (and puzzle games) should be easy to learn and difficult to master. You should be able to explain the game in a sentence or so. That’s not really possible here, and it makes the game less accessible. It’s hard to fault Q Entertainment for that, however, since it is simply a shinier version of another game (which, incidentally, is included).
Every Extend Extra is an interesting game, and certainly is another beautiful looking and sounding offering from Mizuguchi and Q. But with Lumines II and Gunpey out around the same time, it might not be your best bet for a light and sound show game. Or, maybe it’s just time to revisit Rez.