There's nothing quite like an old video game series celebrating a landmark anniversary to make you feel old, especially when it's a 30th anniversary, as is the case for Space Invaders. The game that literally created a shortage of yen coins in Japan is celebrating three decades of blasting aliens with Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP. New graphics, revamped gameplay, fun (albeit strictly offline) multiplayer, and a low price make this new imagining of Space Invaders a surprisingly good time.
As in the 1978 original, you move a small cannon back and forth across the bottom of the screen and blast formations of invaders that slowly descend from above. Although the basic concept remains intact, almost everything else is different. You'll notice right away that there are no longer any destructible barriers to hide under. This isn't necessarily good or bad, but it was such a memorable feature of the first game that its omission is at least noteworthy. The attacking aliens have seen quite a bit of change. Your foes now come in different colors and sizes, sometimes have shields, can swarm down to attack, and group together in a variety of different formations. Every level ends with a boss encounter. The giant-size bosses may look intimidating, but the fights are generally straightforward--avoid their halfhearted attacks and shoot their easy-to-see weak point(s).
Your goal is to avoid being hit while racking up the highest score possible across the game's five levels, and at first you'll be happy to shoot indiscriminately and not die. But as you'll note by all of the different gauges that clutter up the sides of the screen, there's more to Space Invaders Extreme than dodging lasers and mashing the fire button. The instruction manual mentions max chains, score rates, features, breaks, and a host of other gameplay terms, but it doesn't do a great job of clearly defining what all of those terms mean, so you'll have to experiment to find out. Shooting like-colored aliens in succession not only increases your score, but it also causes them to drop one of four power-ups: a spread gun, a laser that explodes on contact and takes out multiple targets, a laser that can destroy an entire column, and a shield for your cannon. You'll also earn a bonus for shooting a column of aliens in order or for clearing an entire formation without missing.
The UFOs that zoom across the screen every so often are back, but now there are a few different varieties. Depending on the color, they'll fly on by, shoot lasers, or add invaders to the formation. If you shoot a roulette UFO, you'll start a brief minigame in which you earn either a score bonus, extra cannon, or nothing at all. Blowing up a flashing UFO will start a timed bonus round. Goals of the bonus rounds vary, but you'll typically need to shoot down a set number of a certain invader or collect falling items. Should you achieve the round's goal, you'll activate fever time. This takes place on the regular playfield, and you get a time limit and a souped-up cannon that annihilates everything in sight, earning you crazy amounts of points in the process.
There's a lot more to this Space Invaders than the first, but it's not as complicated as it sounds. Yes, you can concentrate on chains, features, and breaks, but you can also have a lot of fun if you don't worry about any of that stuff. The game's five levels can be breezed through in less than an hour, but it'll take quite a bit longer if you don't use continues, or if you choose the harder option that's available for the last three levels.
The PSP version of the game lacks the online multiplayer and leaderboard features found in the Nintendo DS version, but there is an ad hoc multiplayer mode that lets two players go head-to-head if they each have their own copy of the game. We did have some difficulty connecting when trying to play wirelessly with a slim PSP against an original PSP, but had no issues when using two slim PSPs. The goal in multiplayer is to shoot invaders and be the last player to run out of lives. This is more difficult than in the single-player modes because both you and your opponent can attack one another, sending invaders to the other person's screen by snagging power-ups. Sending any unwanted foes your opponent's way is always a good thing, but given that the side of the screen displays what's happening on the other person's screen, you can time your attacks for maximum effectiveness. Thanks to a handicapping option and simple, easy-to-learn gameplay, multiplayer mode is a lot of fun.
Extreme isn't a great-looking game, but it looks about as good as a Space Invaders game needs to. The invaders retain the simple, blocky look of the original game, and even the bosses employ the same style. In fact, the moving backgrounds--which are the one area where the developer tried to spice up the presentation--are the worst part. The moving, shifting blobs and shapes that make up the backgrounds just end up being distracting and only serve as a cheap way of making the game harder. Thankfully, there are options to turn down their brightness or stop them completely.
Space Invaders Extreme is a very good example of how to update a classic game. The gameplay has been improved, and multiplayer adds a whole new dynamic to the experience. It's a shame that the PSP version of the game lacks online functionality, but at $20, the price is right for anyone who enjoys fast-paced, arcade-style shooters with a retro twist.