Review: Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Technically I could review this game in one line: it’s great, just go and buy it. Unfortunately we have to spin rhetoric over a certain minimum number of words so here are the beans:

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a 21st century remake of Taito Corporation’s true classic, Space Invaders. Those of us old enough to remember going into the pub and putting 10p in those top-down machines with old-school CRT monitors rounder than a well-lubricated sphere will no doubt have fond memories (I was -1 years old so what I just wrote is a lie).

Retro games on PSN and XBLA have made me nervous lately. I’m not a fan of most of them, and I suspect like most of us, each time I buy one I curse myself for not learning from previous mistakes. Infinity Gene is published by Square Enix, recently responsible for the epicly bad Thexder Neo. Fear not, however, because Infinity Gene is a modern remake of a cult classic at its very best.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

Last year saw the rather good Space Invaders Extreme of which this is the sequel. Sadly it was only available on XBLA – PlayStation 3 owners can now rejoice as Infinity Gene is available on both platforms.

First, this game is huge on style: it’s almost entirely black and white with a mono-spaced font (yes you read that correctly, that is stylish), and old school music. However everything has been renovated; it is in one way completely faithful to the original, yet in another way it raises the bar massively and kicks it into 2010 with great success – which is a good thing, because if it was faithful to the original, it would be Capcom Classics, which was rubbish.

For example, the backgrounds are in cool 3D wireframe, sometimes quite deliberately aliased awfully with 2-frame animation just like in the 80s, other times they are smooth with many polygons and beautifully animated, throwing in tinges of colour. Some enemies are blocky 2D sprites, others are 3D masterpieces. Gameplay is usually in the traditional top-down view but you will sometimes find yourself flying into tunnels, other times there will be a mix of 2D and 3D baddies on screen simultaneously while your ship moves in 2D, which actually works really well. Only the power-ups are coloured, and while there is occasional confusion on what you can and can’t touch, this is a minor problem compared to other recent retro titles, with the shade of grey usually indicating quite clearly if something is in the foreground or background.

The effects are also oozing with style: collect a power-up and a simple rectangle expands to show you have collected it. Shoot an enemy and it disappears with a single-frame white circle explosion. The backgrounds are really trippy at times, and the sound effects match up too, with classic animation and explosion sounds mixed in with more modern effects.

Onto the meat of the game then, and be warned: if you play for only 5 minutes, you will be convinced it is awful. The first level is the classic wave of space invaders with a ship that fires slowly and only moves left and right. At this point alarm bells were ringing in my mind, but the scene cuts away after a few seconds to the real game, which rapidly becomes fast and frenetic with weapons of mass devestation, fast-moving ships and enemies, mini-bosses and full-on boss battles coming thick and fast. There is plenty of variety in the baddies and the bosses are for the most part well-designed.

The game is almost as well-balanced as Soldner X 2 for difficulty, and with your choice of starting weapon and difficulty level, you can make the game as easy or hard as you want. The difficulty curve increases gradually and starts to get really tricky around the early level 20s. Infinity Gene is also brimming with game modes: the main campaign consists of 31 levels, there is a bonus mode with numerous extra levels you unlock as you play through the campaign, a challenge mode with 99 randomly generated levels, and my personal favourite: music mode.

In music mode, you choose a song from your own collection and the game generates a level based upon it, somewhat synchronized to the music. The brilliance of this is that you always get exactly the same level for a particular song. Testing with trance, dance and even Lily Allen all worked flawlessly and the levels were interesting and varied.

Infinity Gene has the one-more-go factor in a two-pronged way: not only do you always want to see what comes next, but as you reach certain point threshold the game triggers ‘Evolution’, each time adding something to the game. Initially this is very basic stuff like being able to move up and down, collect power-ups or execute Nagoya attacks (a handy bullet-dodging technique which makes the game a little bit more forgiving), but as you progress you’ll unlock new weapons, levels, difficulty levels, music and game options such as number of starting lives. Multiple playthroughs are required to reach every stage of Evolution, but you’ll be fine with this because once you unlock the fearsome Field weapon you’ll definitely want to go back and rack up a huge high score – and you’ll need to in order to beat some of the rather difficult trophies on offer. Another nice touch which keeps you playing is that your online rank is shown in real-time as you play, and it’s satisfying to see this ticking down as you plaster the hordes of enemies.

What are the downsides? Well apart from the occasional confusion about what is in the foreground and the fact the campaign will only take you 3-5 hours to complete, there are a few bugs. After the first time I switched the game off and re-loaded it, none of my high scores registered on the stats screens or leaderboards. The leaderboards only have My Score and Global – no Friends option which really kills your ability to compete. There is also a potentially serious issue unique to this game: it may actually hurt your eyes. The game has many fast-moving backgrounds with extreme contrast and I did actually have to break because of eyestrain once or twice. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you have epilepsy (as I do) I would strongly advise against a purchase unless your medications are working.

Pros:

  • Massive style which is matched by substance
  • Tons of replayability for fans of unlockables
  • Lots of game modes, with music mode being particularly fun

Cons:

  • No friends leaderboard
  • No replayability if you’re not a fan of unlockables
  • May cause eyestrain in some players

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is not just the best re-creation of Space Invaders I have played, it is also one of my favourite downloadable titles of 2010. This is an absolute no-brainer recommendation to anyone who played the game or its clones in the ’80s, and for anyone who hasn’t played it, you will enjoy a very quirky and unusual top-down shooter.

Score: 9/10

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

23 Comments

  1. Been playing this for a bit after someone persuaded me to get it after assuring me that the demo didn’t do it justice. I’m still not really on board. Most of my deaths have come from enemy waves entering the screen from the bottom or rushing in from the sides and not having sufficient time to react and get out of the way – feels kind of cheap. The nagoya system is a bit weird and doesn’t seem to be entirely consistent – I was positioned right above a turret where the first round of bullets passed through me but the next lot killed me even though I was still the same distance away from it. Rather than looking stylish, I thought the art design was kind of cheap looking, with too many dull looking grey boxes or cylinders for enemies. The leaderboards aren’t standardised, so you can start from a different level or choose a different starting no. of lives and your score will still get uploaded. Controls felt a little too fast and loose – most bullet hell shmups will include a button or attack which slows down your movement allowing to position your ship with more precision (something you’d need in this to make use of the nagoya attack system). The ‘evolution of shmups’ concept had already been done in Tatsuya Koyama’s freeware game Genetos, so it’s not even original in that respect.

    • The waves always come from the same place, so it’s a memory test just like games such as Galaga. You have to learn the wave formations and remember the order so you can avoid them when they come from the sides and below.

      Nagoya is consistent: when the bullets are a darker gray just after they come out of an enemy, they won’t harm you. However some bullets are immune to Nagoya attacks and start out white in colour. You can’t avoid these ones no matter how close you are to the enemy who fired them.

      Agree on the leaderboards, they are flawed. I think it is probably assumed that all the top scores use 9 ships on easy.

      Allowing you to change the ship’s speed would change the dynamics of the game quite considerably; I am fairly sure it has been made like that by design.

  2. This game is awesome sat my missus on it who isn’t really into retro or bullet hell. Three hours later and she is still playing it I honestly think this is a marmite game. The music mode is a touch of genius as for the leader board i’m not sure how that works but if I knock up my lives to more than three then it stops saving my high score

  3. And that trophy!

  4. Been playing this on the iPhone for the last year (not a solid year, obviously). It has been most enjoyable, might go for the PS3 version after reading this great review :)

  5. Bought this yesterday havent stopped playing it since. Its 100% gameplay and requires skill to play, no stupid 3d, no stupid auto lock on, No attack dogs. It’s BLOODY brilliant and anyone who has a love for shooters will love it, spotting how the game ‘evolves’ and retro actively slots in parts from shooters after Space Invaders in to the game.

    Highlight for me has to be the massive boss ship which is an exact black and white vector version of level 3 from R-Type.

    It’s an inspired idea – take the daddy of all shooters and then bolt on everything that came after. Brilliant. 10/10 for me.

  6. Only add-on for me would be remote play…

    …or have I missed a trick?

Comments are now closed for this post.