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Space Invaders Extreme 2 Review Package Art
Project Just
Taito/Square Enix

Space Invaders Extreme 2 Review

Last year, Square Enix and Taito unleashed Space Invaders Extreme on DS to honor the game's 30th anniversary. As a dramatic and addictive reinvention of one of video gaming's classic titles, and with only a $20 price tag, it handily earned a reputation for being a must-own in your DS library, ideal for quick bouts of solo- and multi-play as well as lengthier sessions of strategic shooting. While simultaneously released on PSP, and later enhanced to HD for Xbox Live Arcade, a DS-exclusive sequel wasn't entirely expected given the "anniversary" nature of its predecessor. Yet Taito has polished and expanded its gem into a sequel perhaps even more deserving of must-own status, and it still only sets you back $20.

Yet it does help to understand what's in the package before blindly making a purchase. Essentially, Space Invaders Extreme 2 is a livelier, louder and deeper version of its predecessor. The primary single player modes are Score Attack, Ranking, Stage (Select) and a new Time Attack mode, which requires speeding through levels against the clock. The Stage mode is the only one that allows the gamer to play any previously completed stage, which is handy when trying to master attack patterns without losing a life or just firing away while enjoying one of the thumping electronica tunes. The other three modes are all about progression through five stages, which branch into harder and easier variations the gamer can choose between after stages two, three and four, resulting in a total of eleven different stages and about eight unique paths through those stages. Space Invaders Extreme 2 Stage Select ScreenGenuine differences abound between, say, stages 4-A, 4-B and 4-C: each level has a unique background song, the invaders' formations are different and progressively filled with more powered-up aliens, and the boss, while the same in shape, will have trickier patterns and more elaborate attacks.

The core gameplay is the same: slide a "cannon" back and forth on the bottom of the lower screen (using the D-pad) while shooting at left-to-right scrolling and descending invaders (using the A button) also on the lower screen. The top screen is a score and status display, most of the time. The "extreme" enhancements concern shooting like-colored aliens. Shoot four red, blue, green or black aliens in a row, and a flickering, pixelated block will drop down the screen. If the gamer's cannon intercepts this block, the cannon's puny one-missile-at-a-time firing will be upgraded to a ranged-explosion bomb shot (red), a five-missile-wide broad shot (green), a nearly invicible wide, blue laser beam (blue) or, defensively, the black block will provide a screen-wide forcefield that deflects any incoming alien missiles. All of these power-ups only last for a short period of time, and collecting another power-up when already powered up will replace whatever's currently in effect.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 Screenshots
LEFT: Typical gameplay chaos. /// RIGHT: A "round" in progress.

The next layer of "extreme" are "rounds," which are triggered by shooting two sets of four like-colored aliens in a row. After doing so, a flashing UFO will fly across the top of the lower screen which, if shot, will start a round. Herein is one of the first major differences in Extreme 2: rather than stopping everything and "warping" the player to a different area to participate in a round, there is no pause and the round kicks off on the top screen, with everything on the lower screen continuing unabated. Rounds usually require destroying a throng of small invaders, four large invaders, or one super-sized invader made up of small blocks, all within 30 seconds. The tricky part in the sequel is this must be done while simultaneously shooting down (and through) the existing waves of invaders on the lower screen, and dodging their incoming missiles. If a round is finished, though, the gamer gets a score bonus and "fever time" begins, in which the gamer's cannon is temporarily upgraded to a super-powered version of one of the three cannon power-ups, the invaders on the lower screen all turn gold, and chains of white UFOs zip across the top screen. Shooting the UFOs up top nets easy points, but shooting the gold-colored invaders on the lower screen causes them to drop point-laden gold blocks that must be snatched up or lost for big points.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 Screenshots
LEFT: Giant invader destruction on the top screen. /// RIGHT: Fever mode imminent!

At first, the removal of warping to an area for fever time seemed disappointing, but after experiencing how much more seamless and quicker it is to get through levels without all the 3-second pauses, Extreme 2 quickly becomes the superior choice. Plus, Extreme 2 integrates a strange 3x3 bingo board on the top screen which adds another layer of strategic challenge and points-earning bonuses. As mentioned above, shooting two sets of four like-colored invaders in a row triggers a flashing UFO, which triggers a round, which triggers fever mode. If all of that is completed, one of the nine bingo panels displayed on the top screen (whenever fever mode's not in play) will be filled in. Yet which is filled in depends on the two pairs of four like-colored enemies you initially shot down, and in what order: shoot four reds, then four greens, and the bingo panel that's a red square nested within a green square will be activated. Shoot four blues and another four blues, then the blue/blue panel will fill in, and so on. Once a row of three panels is activated in any direction, a "bingo" round starts (shoot down X invaders on the top screen), and if that's accomplished, "super fever time" starts, which includes not only gold invaders on the lower screen, but also waves of gold UFOs on the top screen led by a pink UFO. In this case, the gold UFOs drop point blocks like the smaller gold invaders on the lower screen, but each pink UFO's point block is worth a massive 30,000 points. Considering run-of-the-mill invaders are only 200 points each, that's a nice perk.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 Screenshots
LEFT: Super Fever Before. /// RIGHT: Super Fever After.

On the multiplayer side, Extreme 2 is just as full-featured. Multi-card and single-card download versus play are supported, as well as versus play against folks around the globe via Nintendo's WFC. Versus mode works the same as it did before-- you shoot down invaders on the lower screen while simultaneously keeping track of your opponent's actions which are shown in the upper screen. The gamer's cannon can be powered-up, and fever time bonuses in terms of firepower can be collected, but the rounds and bingo elements of single player aren't here. However, "attack" invaders can be gathered and triggered which will result in the opponent seeing all his invaders shielded, strengthened, or even replaced by a super-sized UFO. The first person to run out of lives loses. In a small upgrade, the background of this mode mimics the artwork from the original arcade machines.

In solo or multiplay, the invaders still have the same tricks and dizzying patterns as they did before. Some are shielded against bombs and others have missile-reflecting shields, some can "roll" sideways to be only a pixel wide, some dive bomb toward the ground after an initial hit, some transport randomly around the screen and others change colors. The super-sized invader boss battles are similar to the ones in the original Extreme but are still just as fun to conquer. If anything, the game seems a little more forgiving-- levels go by faster and, between the multiple stage paths as well as an overall difficulty selection, they're much easier to complete. A given run through the five stages may take no more than 30-minutes, but somehow the game's presentation and decent challenge always encourage another go-round. Mastering chains and specific color combos, for instance, is not something that comes easy with all the chaos playing across two screens.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 Screenshots
LEFT: "BREAK" appears after you've shot 100 invaders in a row. /// RIGHT: 2-player versus. The opponent has just attacked with a super UFO.

Speaking of chaos, the pulsating and spinning animated backgrounds also make a comeback, and while they're definitely more detailed and 3D-polygon based, they're somehow easier to ignore this time around. If they do prove distracting, however, Extreme 2 allows for their brightness to be swapped between five different levels, or completely turned off altogether.

What can't be turned off, unfortunately, is the obnoxious announcer, the one serious design misstep in this otherwise excellent game. Sure, the audio can be silenced altogether, but Extreme 2's soundtrack is even better than the last's, with fast and varied percussion, random vocal samples and catchy melodies, all "enhanced" by synchronizing the firing sound effect of the gamer's cannon to the beat of the song. Dampening it all, however, is the announcer, who's perhaps more obnoxious than the sound effect-to-music syncrhonizing that some gamers don't like.

The original Extreme also had an announcer-- a subdued female voice that gave the game a nice, space age computer vibe. She'd announce fever time and the name of the game in a subtle, robotic fashion, and she stayed in the background. With Extreme 2, though, we get the cheesiest of cheeseball American voice actors that Taito could have found, bringing back cringe-worthy memories of voice samples used to fluff up bad '80s arcade games. As if his used car salesman-meets-gameshow host delivery isn't bad enough, the lines he says seal the deal. Here's a sample of his worst, with an accompanying emoticon to communicate the delivery.

  • :-O "Nice moves, maverick!" (said after finishing every stage)
  • >B-D "Don't let the enemy freak you out!" (said whenever an end-of-stage boss appears)
  • ;-) "That's gotta feel good!" (said if you're shooting a lot of enemies in fever time)

After months of "maverick" assertions and jokes during 2008's presidential campaign, the last thing a gamer needs to be called is the "m-word," unless he's still fantasizing about being Tom Cruise in Top Gun, which would be doubly strange. Also, being told that something must feel good in the tone this announcer says it is just creepy. This almost makes a case for instead having the patronizing "wow's" of Wii Sports Resort's disinterested voice actor.

Yet this is a small flaw that's easily overwhelmed by the presentation and gameplay Extreme 2 delivers. Simple, arcade-style fun that's complex and well-produced enough to encourage repeat trips again and again, beefed up with all the multiplayer support the DS can handle. Fans of the original should definitely pick this up, and newcomers, if trying to choose, should definitely select Extreme 2 for all the extra polish.

final score 8.5/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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