After nearly 30 years of blasting space bugs as a pixilated starship, the influence of Space Invaders is still prevalent in other shooters. Iterations of Gradius and R-Type evolved the horizontal movement and vertical shooting of their arcade ancestor, but Space Invaders refuses to be forgotten. Space Invaders Extreme manages to feel like both an ancient relic and a shiny new toy at once. Extreme's core remains fundamentally intact, but the psychedelic visuals and electronic bass grooves could fool newcomers into thinking that the space invasion started a lot more recently than it did. It's a fun, hectic blast that over quickly, but you'll want to come back for more.
As you glide left and right along the bottom of the screen, an onslaught of invading aliens descends on you. With nothing but a single-shot laser cannon, you'll blow up the baddies before they reach the bottom (lest you lose your limited lives). Space Invaders' simple concept still holds up 30 years later, but there's a significant amount of depth that elevates Extreme. Changes include multicolored neon invaders that sport their own characteristics. You'll begin to note which shapes are weak, which ones act as extraterrestrial explosives, and which will separate into a cluster of new baddies when destroyed. It's a lot of work for one measly laser gun, so it's a good thing that you can pick up new weaponry on the fly. But it isn't as simple as coming across a random item. Unlocking upgrades requires a bit of effort on your part. Consecutively killing four blue bad guys nets you a devastating laser upgrade that covers a wide spectrum and deals a sickening amount of damage, allowing for quick column kills; drop four green enemies and you're entitled to the broadshot, a launcher that churns out five side-by-side beams; dead reds reward you with bombs that kill clusters of invaders; and quad-killing the gray enemies slaps a temporary shield on your spaceship's grill. You'll need to make deliberate shots between the beams of death that rain on you if you want to power up your ship. In a sense, it's similar to Ikaruga, which also rewarded you for alternating your colored kills. Similarly, levels are identical each time you play them. This adds a great dynamic to each of the five-minute-long levels. Expert players will breeze through levels while hitting exactly what they want to with dead-eye aim and earn a higher letter grade for it, but amateurs can still succeed and score by shooting like a maniac.
Big points have always been the central focus of what made Space Invaders so replayable, and that translates directly into Space Invaders Extreme. By stringing kills together, you'll earn a chain multiplier. But to boldly send your score where no score has gone before, you'll need accuracy. In a method similar to the weapon combo mechanic, a duo of four-kill combos releases a flashing UFO. Picking off specially marked saucers results in mid-mission minigames. If you succeed in blasting a set number of massive monsters, heavily guarded UFOs, or lightning-quick invaders, you'll trigger fever time, a mind-melting mix of explosive backgrounds, music mixes, and heavily expressive visual effects. More importantly, you'll tear through enemies like a wrecking ball through rice paper, and with a huge power boost. Another bonus comes in the form of roulette, which is activated by shooting the yellow UFOs. From extra lives to big points and free fevers, the chance bonus is almost always worth the extra effort. You can earn even more points by specifically targeting rows, columns, or particular alien breeds. There are such varied methods of scoring that you'll find yourself memorizing specific spots in certain stages so you can pinpoint the most profitable pattern.
Levels are satisfyingly tough, and their unique tunes make for great background noise. The excellent mix of 8-bit music and groovy techno will have your head bobbing to the beat of your vibrating controller, but only if you silence the sound effects. The horrendously annoying explosions, laser blasts, and other bleeps and bloops will have you plugging your ears with the nearest objects available, regardless of safety. Mercifully, you can mute them. The cluttered backgrounds could be annoying for some as well; their flashy rotations of neon nonsense can distract you from the game. But chances are that you'll be so zoned in on the fun of combo multipliers, huge invaders, and their miniature minions to care. Bosses make for a nice, challenging conclusion to each of Space Invaders Extreme's 11 stages. Heavily armored and fully aggressive big baddies don't like to let you get past their protectors, so you'll have to think on your feet as you try to make pinpoint shots at their itty-bitty weak points. Some even act as minipuzzles, forcing you to fight quickly or to build up a special weapon to break past a barrier.
When you've worn out the Arcade mode, a brief but challenging compilation of levels with divergent paths that rewards high-ranking players, the four-player multiplayer (both local and online) will keep you hooked. Outliving your opponents in Survival mode is a chaotic riot made all the more intense by the visibility of each opponent's screen, and a Cooperative mode lets you tackle the entire game with friends. There seems to be a slight delay between your controller inputs and the onscreen actions. Though it's not a crippling problem, some will find it slightly agitating.
Whether or not you grew up on, have already discovered, or are experiencing the franchise for the first time, Space Invaders Extreme is a refreshing redux of a seminal shooter that shouldn't be passed up. The challenging campaign will have you struggling to beat your buddies' leaderboard high scores by acing specific shots and triggering back-to-back fever bonuses, and settling your scuffles online could make for some long, technotronic nights in which time becomes irrelevant.