April 9, 2006
The latest Space Invaders on the DS arrived with little fanfare, which is to be expected, since the videogame press is more interested in state-of-the-art eye candy than another rendition of a game from 1978. For them, it came and went without much thought. Please don't be like them.
Despite its age (whatever that's supposed to mean), Space Invaders is among the true classic games, and certainly among the most important milestones. It was this game that pretty much birthed the whole "videogame craze," and there's something timeless about it that remains riviting and tense. There have been a number of attempts to "modernize" Space Invaders over the years, but they've only been moderately successful, except, of course, for that marvelous retro version on the Super Nintendo. Now that was a kick.
Well, cut to the present, and the original designer, Tomohiro Nishikado, has supervised the newest version, Space Invaders Revolution. It's a great game; nothing transcendent like Jeff Minter's Tempest 2000, but nothing cheap or gratituitous, like that SI knock-off that wound up on the PS2 a while ago. It's an update to the classic game, but it's a strictly faithful update, and that makes all the difference. It's even closer to the metal than most of the later arcade sequels; heck, even the original sound effects are used again.
SI Revolution offers a mission-based structure, spread across 20 different locations. Each location has a different mission, with different enemies to defeat. On one level, you have to defeat a single doppleganger that frantically bobs and weaves. On another level, you face a single giant Invader, whose individual pixels must be destroyed (that's the one on the box). Another mission involves a smaller playfield, and less time to defeat the aliens, while others stick to the classic formula.
You'll face against one or two rows of invaders who fire so many shots that your shields are obliterated in a single pass. You'll face attackers that must be destroyed in a specific order. You'll even face waves of invaders that disappear and reappear. This is great stuff.
Shooter fans will enjoy the various polygon cut-scenes of your spaceship blasting off; that's pretty much required for any shooter, right? Now here's something that will really trip your world. There are various new power-ups you can earn and use on the missions (via touch-screen, of course), which can be combined much like you could in Gunstar Heroes. But here's the kick: in order to access them, you need to earn points in Classic Space Invaders.
Now that's something I've never seen before: a classic game designer who requires you to spend some serious time with his original game before you get to use all the toys in the new versiion. It's pretty gutsy, and it shows just how much confidence Nishikado has in his child. Game publishers today just figure the kids wouldn't touch anything unless it involved swearing or hijacking cars or bashing hookers over the head with 2x4's.
The DS has a number of classic games in its roster, and the success ratio is pretty good. Frogger is a sloppy mess. Dig Dug is really good. That Atari Anthology (or whatever it's called) is a train wreck. Namco's Pac-Man games are either really cool or, at the least, interesting. And Tetris, despite that whole "infinite rotation" controversy, is still Tetris. Who says classic gamers are stuck in the past? We're the only ones who know what a real videogame still is.
SI Revolution should be seen by more people, if just to show how a cool retro game on the Nintendo handheld could be pulled off. Heck, any game that let's you use the stylus to put quarters into the arcade machine has to be good.