Space Invaders Infinity Gene Review

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Original Space Invaders

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In 1978 Japanese company Taito released the original Space Invaders game, which became immensely popular and is still an extremely well known, if less often played, classic game. Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and Zelda, mentioned Space Invaders as the one game that revolutionized the game industry. Not only did Space Invaders drive the popularity of video games forward, but I would brave the statement that it also spawned the continued popularity of shooters, whether they are top-down, side-scrolling, or even 3D shooters like the Star Fox games, as it was the first popular game to pit the player against an onslaught of approaching enemies.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene was released for iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) in July of 2009, and then later in September 2010 it was released for the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. The version I’ve been playing is the XBLA version, which is supposed to be identical to the PSN version, but has more features than the original iOS version such as HD graphics and extra ship-variations.

The “Normal” mode of Infinity Gene begins with Charles Darwin’s quote above, setting the stage for evolution themed gameplay. The first level begins with a tribute to the original Space Invaders, and then quickly transforms into a fast paced modern shooter with classic Space Invaders graphics. At the beginning of the game the ship can only fly left and right, as in the original, however as players earn points and complete levels they fill up an evolution bar which advances gameplay. Over time the abilities to move anywhere on screen, upgrade weapons, or use ships with all new weapons, become available as the game evolves. Evolution also provides the ability to do “Nagoya Attacks”, an interesting ability which allowed my ship to fly through enemy shots in the first few frames of their existence on screen. To keep up with the players increasing abilities and firepower, the game not only presents more enemies and new bigger bosses, but also increases the complexity and quality of the music and graphics. By the end of the game the graphics have become polygon based 3D graphics, and the music various thumping techno tracks.

Later levels introduce an angled perspective.

While unlocking vertical screen movement and new weapons does change gameplay, the game never gets much more complex. I eventually completed the game just by holding down the right trigger and flying carefully; dodging the swarms of enemies and bullets is the primary challenge. For the most part the more “evolved” ships are more powerful when they are unlocked, making the early ships fairly useless for the later levels. While a more balanced array of ships to fit different play styles might have been nice, it is exciting to “evolve”, receive a new ship, and have it be something new and powerful that helped me get past the increasingly hectic levels. While I found evolution theme applied to what is essentially an upgrade bar a cool idea, it got less exciting when I realized that the same bar was used to unlock all the sound test tracks and bonus levels as well. Only a scattered few evolutions actually improve your gameplay abilities, and then when you’ve finally unlocked the last ship, the evolution bar goes away and there are no more unlocks. It seems that the music unlocks were used to increase the time it takes to unlock ships and artificially extend the process, and while the extension is appreciated, more exciting unlockables would have been appreciated.

Infinity Gene’s sound and graphics hold up through the whole game as an effectively modernized nostalgia trip. While the backgrounds gain some simple colors, the player’s ship and enemies are always just white, even when the graphics step up to simple 3D polygons, making the visual experience never too far from the recognizable classic Space Invaders. The increasingly complex techno music that backs the game is effective and exciting though certainly nothing revolutionary as far as game scores go. The sound effects of ships firing and exploding are all inspired by the original arcade sound effects. UFOs still make that wonderful oscillating “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa” noise when they get shot down, and enemies explode with a similar note, keeping everything familiar. Progressing into the later levels I was struck by one annoying flaw in the sound of the game; it seems that when too many sound effects occur at once something goes wrong with the games interaction with Dolby surround sound and the sound will pop and go out for an instant. This doesn’t effect gameplay but makes listening to the game with the volume up fairly annoying on hectic levels.

In all, Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an excellent modern tribute to one of the games that helped start it all. Sound and graphics effectively create nostalgia, while the bullet-hell gameplay lives up to other modern descendants of the shooter genre. The overall simplicity of the game is a disappointment considering the games long normal mode, extra Bonus and Challenge modes, and even a music mode allowing levels to be created based on music players have on their Xbox. Played in short bursts however, Infinity Gene is a great way to remember gaming days of old while simultaneously experiencing just how games have (and haven’t) changed in the last 30 years.

Giant UFOs provide epic boss fights.

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