With the recent release of Taito’s “Space Invaders Extreme” and “Arkanoid Live!” on Xbox Live Arcade, the addition of pulsing techno music and flashing visuals to classic games from the late ’70s and early ’80s has become a full-blown trend.
“Pac-Man Championship Edition,” released in summer 2007 (rated E, $10), set the bar for this type of reimagining, with two-sided levels, stages with ever-replenishing pellets, a time limit, ever-increasing pace and a thumping soundtrack inspired by the game’s original audio.
It’s obvious that “Space Invaders Extreme” (also available for the DS and PlayStation Portable) takes its cues from that remake. The fast-paced title ditches the plodding armada of aliens from the 1978 original for fewer, faster invaders of various sizes and strengths. The little bases that provided cover from enemy fire are gone, but to help you destroy your enemies more quickly, a number of power-ups descend from the top of the screen. What’s more, the flashing, pulsing background designed by Jeff Minter, the guy behind the Xbox 360’s music visualization program and a host of other trippy visual things, makes me glad I’m not one of those folks susceptible to video game-induced seizures.
Probably the best part of the game is its soundtrack. The beats are infectious and make the already fast game feel even faster. But what stands out most is the way the designers have integrated the gameplay into the soundtrack. Shoot an alien, and he explodes in a burst of color and sound. Some of the aliens carry shields, and when you shoot those, you get a little cymbal hit or a snare drum. Additionally, if you shoot down the flying saucers that buzz both in front of and behind the rows of invaders, you can trigger a timed minigame. Zap enough aliens in the minigame, and you return to the game’s regular levels but activate fever time, in which your cannon is way more powerful and downed enemies are worth way more points.
The only puzzling aspect of “Space Invaders Extreme” is that it doesn’t include the original game. For that, you have to download a $3 expansion pack that includes that game as well as 1980’s “Space Invaders Part II.” The download is only 108 kilobytes, which probably means you’re just paying for access to stuff you already downloaded when you grabbed the main game. Lame. Nonetheless, “Space Invaders Extreme” is a fun twist on the original and strangely hypnotic. It probably lies a notch just below “Pac-Man Championship Edition” in the pantheon of classic remakes, but there are far worse ways to spend your $10 on Xbox Live Arcade.
“Arkanoid Live!” however, is tougher to recommend at that price. The “Breakout”-inspired brick-breaking game carries the same $10 cost as those other two remakes, but unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do with “Arkanoid.” You’re still maneuvering a little paddle and bouncing a ball to break bricks. Players of the arcade game from the mid-’80s will recall that you used a “Pong”-style dial to move your spacecraft around the screen. Unfortunately, a console thumbstick doesn’t allow for the precision you’d get from such a dial. The developers for “Arkanoid Live!” tried to compensate for this by letting you hold down the 360 gamepad’s bumper buttons to move your paddle faster, but the control scheme is somewhat counterintuitive and I found myself missing far too many balls I’d have easily gotten to on an arcade cabinet.
“Arkanoid Live!” isn’t without its charms. It’ll definitely scratch an itch for fans of the original game, but it still plays enough like the original that it feels like it should be marked down to $5, the going rate for Xbox 360 ports of classic arcade games like “Time Pilot,” “Dig Dug” and “Double Dragon.”
“Space Invaders Extreme” and “Arkanoid Live!” are rated E and sell for $10 on Xbox Live Arcade. Both games include single-player arcade modes, as well as online and offline versus and co-operative play.