a review of Space Invaders Extreme
a videogame developed by taito
and published by taito
for the microsoft xbox live arcade, the nintendo DS and the sony playstation portable
(game of the year 2008)
text by action button dot net
When we founded Action Button Dot Net, the idea was that we would make this a website about spontaneously and frequently posting whatever thoughts we had about whatever games we were playing, whether we’ve played them to completion, or only halfway to completion, or what. The idea, going in, was that we’d devote as much of every review as possible to unabashed fatuosity. We wanted to just spill out words that sounded hilarious when mostly naked at three in the morning, maybe with a little bit of a foreign influence up in you. We can’t say we failed at this goal, though maybe we didn’t totally succeed yet. Who knows.
So here we arrive at the task of reviewing Space Invaders Extreme, which we are delighted to call Action Button Dot Net Game of the Year 2008 (tied with Braid), with absolutely nothing to say about the game. What should we say? What can we say? We’re just typing words in here to make the space not look depressingly empty.
Why are we calling it Game of the Year? Why not? In a year where the only input coming from Fat People With Money was represented by trudging exercises in barren game design such as Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space — games the very titles of which evoke the rich imagery of trifling nothingness — if you wanted to actually have fun pressing buttons, you were going to have to rent out part of your soul in the name of dealing with something. Man, what the heck.
Space Invaders Extreme didn’t ask you for anything you weren’t willing to give it. It’s a portable game — we like the DS version better — and it only uses one button (for shooting) in addition to two directions on the D-pad (for moving left or right). Whether you like fruity techno or not, you cannot deny that the synchronicity of the shooting sound effects and musical rhythm is wonderfully well-executed.
The game is simple — it’s Space Invaders, the original top-down arcade shooter, re-done with a Pac-Man: Championship Edition level of virtuoso polish. You are a ship at the bottom of the screen. You shoot enemies at the top of the screen. In the original Space Invaders, your shots had a curious, stereo-knob-like weight to them. That weight has mostly been osmosed into Extreme, though it’s been fine-tuned to a razor’s edge. The enemies are red, green, blue, black, or white. Kill them, rhythmically, in groups of three or four, and you can chain together combos. Chain together enough enemies of one color, and they drop a weapon. Each weapon possesses a delicious friction. Blue is a laser; red is a crushing bomb-launcher that knocks enemies back and exploding into one another; green is a juicy spread-laser.
Sometimes little UFOs appear at the top of the screen; shoot them in time, and you’ll enter a bonus round. Win the bonus round, and you might come back out into the stage with a hyper-powered weapon. They call this “Fever Time”. It feels like a pinball multi-ball.
Space Invaders Extreme is, as our friend Kenta Cho puts it, “a shooting game happily married to the pinball aesthetic”. (Note: Kenta Cho supports our choice of Space Invaders Extreme as the best game of 2008.) There is nothing else you really need to know about it. You can sit back on a train, turn the volume off if you like (Kenta Cho happens to love the music; here end the Kenta Cho namedrops), and just pound a round out. It’s loud (even with the volume off), colorful, like pachinko, only you don’t need to smoke (a plus), and you can’t win any money (a minus). You shoot because you love shooting; the enemies get shot because they love getting shot. It’s a game about love. It’s a game about juice. It’s a game about crunch. It’s a cute little display of slick graphic design. It’s beautiful, really. It’s just a really great package.
Is that too much to expect from, you know, everyone? So much money-hungering runs unchecked in the games industry these days. It’s just a bunch of cockroach-people rubbing their hands together and scheming about how to get the most of your money as possible. Like, this isn’t just the video game industry — obviously. It hardly makes a man a conspiracy theorist to extrapolate that the people at his Japanese internet service provider are trying to slum-scam him out of fifty bucks. It’s like, if you want to cancel your internet contract, they tell you that you have to go to this website and enter some information. Then you go to the website and enter the information. Then you choose “cancel contract”. Then they tell you that you can’t cancel your contract through this website — you have to call this new phone number. Call the number, and they say they’ll send you a paper in the mail. You groan, tell them your new address. They then say that they can only send the paper on the 20th of the month. And then, you’ll need to send the paper back by the 25th of the month — and it will need to be filled out properly, with not one tiny mistake — or you’ll be charged for the next month’s fees. You do this, writing your twenty-four-character “customer ID name” (a combination of letters, numbers, hyphens, semicolons, and symbols) carefully in the tiny blanks. If those sons of bitches at the customer service center claim that they can’t read one of them, you bet your ass their boss has been told to tell them not to tell you until well after midnight on the 25th of the month. This is weird! This is sick! We live in a weird, sick world!
In this world, in a country called “Japan”, there exists a video-game industry where people have decided that, because the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS sell to “casual gamers”, that the games they make don’t have to stand up to the “standards” of the “hardcore gamer”. This is a problem, for the “standards” of a “hardcore gamer” can be abbreviated as “common sense”. The first step toward this forbidden territory was the en masse conclusion that “This game is going to be marketed to the casuals, so it doesn’t have to be complicated”. The toe crossed the line when they all threw up their hands and decided “This game is going to be marketed to the casuals, so it doesn’t have to be very good“. You’re running straight for a brick wall, right there. We’ve said this before: millions of people played and loved the original Super Mario Bros., and it wasn’t because “games were new and exciting”, it’s because “games were new and exciting and because Super Mario Bros. was an expertly designed, bullstuff-free piece of software entertainment”. People these days wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, or a hole in the ground from a hole in a wall, or whatever. Everything is going down the drain. For the love of all that is holy, someone, right now, is making a videogame that is literally titled Item Getter. How hecked up and tacky is that? That’s like rebooting your entire brand line of cushioned insoles by renaming them “Foot-pain off-mind-takers: Absolute Failures At Eliminating The Omnipresent Specter of Death”.
Well, Space Invaders Extreme, with its pick-up-and-play no-frills single-player mode and its cute Tetris Attack-like multiplayer versus mode, is the exact opposite of a tacky piece of stuff. It is a piece of delicious snack food, in a crinkly shiny plastic foil bag that doth never run empty. It is a game “for the casuals” that also happens to contain a pure-hearted, rock-solid core. Taito — you guys are the good guys. Thanks. Too bad Square-Enix bought you.
Space Invaders Extreme 2 is being released any day now. It’s probably pretty good. We can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be.
Yeah, that’s about it for this one. Not even going to bother proofreading this. Yep.
Oh, we do have these two video reviews, which are basically two takes on the same idea, done by two guys who maybe didn’t know that the other was doing kind of the same thing.
(perhaps tangentially) related games:
braid (game of the year 2008)
gears of war 2 (game of the year 2008, second place)
bangai-o spirits (game of the year 2008, third place)
portal (game of the year 2007)
out of this world (the best game of all-time)