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 Post subject: Space Invaders Infinity Gene (PSN/XBLA Download)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2011 2:33 am 


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Joined: 03 Oct 2007
Posts: 46
Game: Space Invaders Infinity Gene
Platform (Version): PSN
Developer: Taito Corporation, published by Square Enix


What! Space Invaders Is Evolving!

It's not a big mystery that shoot-'em-ups comprise some of the first video games ever created, and that their lineage is still within almost every shmup which followed. Spacewar! (yes, with the exclamation point) and Asteroids come to mind, with their digital DNA providing the modern inspiration for arena shmups like Geometry Wars and all of the competitors that appeared once Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved became an Xbox Live Arcade megahit. And before Galaga and Galaxian, there was Taito's Space Invaders, produced in the United States under Midway.

To date, Space Invaders has been with the gaming community for 33 years. The simple noises of the aliens slowly dancing towards the bottom of a screen and the player's roughly baby bottle nipple-shaped...ship-space-turret-thing...firing at them have been ingrained into the memories of any sufficiently old gamer. Despite the games around Space Invaders getting stronger, faster, and more advanced, Taito's Genesis story persists as one of the greatest games ever penned in popular lore, and has been remade, remixed and revamped with the same basic gameplay ever since its inception. From a purely academic standpoint, one could wonder why: the bones of the Space Invaders remakes and remixes are as old as Space Invaders itself, and graphical upgrades and extra weapons aside they've all been the same game: you sit around at the bottom of the screen, sit behind four blocks of degradable cover, trading fire with formations of aliens doing the Electric Slide towards you. In a world where the artistry of names like Treasure, Cave, Konami, and Team Shanghai Alice reign supreme, it would seem that much like Duke Nukem, Space Invader's throne is now vacant since the once-king of shmups has finally been dethroned due to its own sloth and refusal to change or innovate.

However, Space Invaders is not that kind of franchise. If the gamers want modern shmups nowadays, that is precisely what Taito delivers. Remember that this is the same Taito that brought us titles like the Ray series, Metal Black and the Darius games. Taito is not just going to let one of its most storied intellectual properties become obsolete or irrelevant.

Enter Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, originally released on the iOS for five bucks, then further spruced up and ported to both Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network for ten dollars or its equivalent. Make no mistake, pay no attention to any advertising blurbs: Infinity Gene's true goal is single-minded: bring Space Invaders into the next decade of the 21st century and show how far its spirit as an industry and genre icon has come.

Challenge accepted.


Story

The story of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene is something artistic, triumphant and optimistic when considering what the game is meant to represent. Yes, there's a story and it's not really explained, but implied. It's all within the journey of the game, from level to level. The very first level is a traditional game of Space Invaders that is interrupted by a digital circuitry line effect and the core tenet of Darwin's theory of evolution: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Then, the screen proudly proclaims "THE KING OF GAMES STRIKES BACK!"

In your first playthrough, all your playing and score will cause the game to evolve as you clear stages and gather score: the game will go from being Space Invaders, a shooter from the primordial depths of gaming, to a game that carries the Space Invaders name, aliens and UFOs but becomes a full 3D vertical shmup with its own unique identity. As you fight ever more creative enemies that herald in the advent of more creatively-designed enemies and ever-more-terrifying bullet patterns as the shmup genre evolved, there is at least one battleship raid level and finally, the game all comes together in epic boss rushes and a final bullet hell boss battle before the game ends with you back in the original Space Invaders, zapping the last alien on the stage you began at the very start.

I found that satisfying, if a little abrupt, and it is the final announcement and confirmation of Infinity Gene's theme, arguably its story: it starts and ends as a Space Invaders game, but in the middle it seamlessly implements almost every single shmup convention that has come and gone as Space Invaders has sat watch. Rather than trying to clumsily claim them as its own or deny them, Infinity Gene uses these elements and shows that, indeed, Space Invaders is most responsive to change.

...well, I HAD to put something in the Story section of my personal review style...

Summary: 10/10. Infinity Gene set out to combine two things: Space Invaders and Darwin's theory of evolution. Mission accomplished on both fronts. A tight artistic vision makes Infinity Gene's vision of evolution in a shmup look like what Genetos dreams it could be when it goes to bed at night.


Graphics

Infinity Gene's graphics cater to retro gamers of two loose kinds: retro gamers who grew up with sprites and pixels and retro gamers who grew up with gigantic, blocky polygons. At no point does it drop the Space Invaders identity: everything is still expressed in abstract visuals, but instead of just being made of blocky pixels, the abstraction is expressed in remasters of the original sprites for the UFOs and aliens of the original game coupled with lines, wireframes and large, polygonal 3D shapes. These polygonal shapes are, when they first appear, originally designed as top-view or frontal-view 2D elevations of what they eventually will be in later levels. This is, in fact, how your player ship is represented. As a nice touch, the powerups you gather are the same design as the Newalone Particles in Taito's previous hit shmup, Metal Black. Neat.

The backgrounds are just as abstract: either black with moving bits of color in the background or some bold color or pattern that works well with white visuals. This is important, as every element you interact with outside of the powerups is white, just like it was in the original Space Invaders. Originally meant to be viewed on a black, flat background, this styling ethic actually holds up surprisingly well when imposed over all sorts of backgrounds. You're accosted by technological whatchamacallits that look like anything from starfighters to looking vaguely like some kind of finned sea creature to being attacked by what looks like a giant antler that spits lasers at you. Awesome. Sometimes this design decision runs you into trouble since all the bullets and all enemies that you can crash into are white, just like you and everything you fire, but thankfully no single element crowds the screen enough to make the white visuals look like someone spilled milk all over the game, and most things are rendered in lines and wires rather than flat polygons or pixels. You are tiny and lots of enemies and visuals can populate the screen at any one time, and the game suffers from no slowdown. Projectile effects are believable, from the original Space Invaders projectile to the many flavors of abstract death beams you and enemies can throw at each other at any given time in the later stages of Infinity Gene. The game takes advantage of the flat white palette for all the things you interact with by even making a lot of the end of level and end of world bosses impressive white flashes that imply some seriously big single booms.

The evolution from world to world is wonderful: the game turns gradually from a Space Invaders game to a 2D and finally a 3D vertical shmup with an even pace, and none of the transitions feel forced or jarring. Combine this with all of the above and you get Infinity Gene's bold statement made with no apologies along the way.

Summary: 9/10. The all-white wireframe-and-polygon aesthetics of the game's ships and enemies in later stages can get a bit rough to negotiate at times, but 99% of the time, everything is clear and it looks like a Space Invaders game, and not just because the aliens and UFOs appear.


Sound

The sounds in Infinity Gene evolve right alongside the visuals. While the shots themselves have no sounds, the alien death noises and the UFO death sound are joined by a cavalcade of other retro-sounding noises, all of which sound perfectly-suited to Infinity Gene's old-meets-new sound palette. Everything appears to have been written bespoke for Infinity Gene, too: the only recycled noises are the ones everyone knows: the original Space Invaders enemy kill sounds.

The music, which is entirely composed of electronica and techno with simple, driving beats and riffs, also does this evolution trick in similar increments. If you think about it, the soundtrack is only really composed of a few tracks, but those tracks are played out in multiple different types, getting more detailed as you go from one world to the next. The songs turn from retro-sounding beats that could have been put down in any sufficiently old arcade system to full-blown constructed beats that follow the relentless action on-screen with a similar, single-minded pace. It's glorious to listen to the soundtrack keep pace as the game gets more and more frenetic.

Summary: 10/10. I don't have much to say on the soundtrack and effects because they're all fairly simple, but they all fit, and honestly, this is all that matters. If you want to try out the soundtrack and bring it with you, the whole thing is available on iTunes, and the game features a sound test. I advise you to look up the OST if this review doesn't convince you the game's worth it.


Gameplay

Infinity Gene is at its core a trip through shmups and their connection to Space Invaders through the three long decades since Space Invaders' birth. As I mentioned earlier, the game "evolves" from world to world, each of which is segmented into several levels. The basics are all here: waves of enemies, big enemies, little enemies, dodging the environment, and boss battles. I'll get to all of them in more detail later.

You can eventually (meaning, after a playthrough or two and some intense score run rampages, so it's not that hard to fill out your arsenal) pick up to one of ten ships, each with their own unique weapons and seven power levels, which you gain from the only powerups in the game: the aforementioned Not-Newalone Particles, referred to in-game as Neurons if you believe the Achievements/Trophies. Neurons are everywhere: just kill a UFO and you'll have a delicious Neuron to gather and level your weapon up once. If you die, you release one less of the amount of Neurons you gathered, meaning you can power yourself back up to something pretty strong in rapid order if you screw up. It's a forgiving system that still takes skill to take advantage of since you do need to do a bit of dancing about to gather all your dropped Neurons. The ships themselves are all balanced, and by that I mean all of them eventually become immensely powerful, but have their strong areas and weak areas. There are ships that are good for clearing the screen of some enemy shots, while there are others that are good for rapidly damaging and destroying single enemies or wide areas. One of them is basically the R-Gray from Taito's Ray-series of shmups in deed and looks, and another pals around with four Options much like the legendary Vic Viper. All of them also double their fire rate when standing still and shooting, which you can do in short enough bursts if you're quick enough. And you most likely will be quick enough, since you zip around the screen with the requisite speed and grace you would need to send the renovated aliens home packing just like the old days. For you bullet hell players, grazing is even here in the form of the Nagoya Attack: attacks that get just close enough to you give you extra power and a score bonus. Don't expect THAT small a hitbox, though.

The enemies have learned a lot from Taito's other shmups, too. Both enemy and attack patterns are vivid, unexpected and creative. Midbosses will leap in with nothing but a warning delivered just in time. Bosses demand their showdowns in a hail of ever-more-creative laser fire and you must answer them or get your sorry butt kicked. The new enemies are any flavor of shmup standards and then some, but it's the old aliens who have achieved levels of mastery all their own: they not only have learned the art of moving diagonally, but they now move in amazingly-coordinated patterns, some have shields, many have learned the art of teleportation, and in a lot of cases they're amazingly swift. The UFOs appear to have embraced not only increased technological advancement but gigantism, turning from the powerup droppers that slowly inch their way across the screen to slightly larger minibosses and eventually menacing multipart bosses and battleship raids which are levels all to themselves.

Speaking of the boss battles, the later ones and even some of the early ones are nothing short of epic. "The Sun" is like a classic Space Invaders level that had been wrapped inside a Touhou spell card, "Hornet" is a Rubik's Cube with the world's deadliest jack inside, and "Centipede" is a version of Atari's original monster that has learned how to turn move in directions other than up-down and left-right. The Progressive UFO is a particularly impressive boss, and it sure as hell doesn't feel like selling you insurance.

Every level is fun and distinctive, and the game feels like every single level was designed with a purpose. Everything is here in this game because it belongs there, and that makes everything from the random-generation bonus and extra levels to the rich campaign itself enjoyable and worth playing at least once.

Summary: 10/10. Taito's experiences with shmups have come together in this epic game. Come for the campaign, stay for the unlocks, extras and bonus levels.


Conclusion

What could you want in Infinity Gene that isn't already there? There's nothing else to say about Infinity Gene that if it doesn't validate the shmup's existence, it validates Space Invader's relevance. When you think about it, Space Invaders is one of the proto-shmups, if not the first: it was shmups, is shmups, and will be shmups in the future.

Taito remembers where it's been, where it is and where it could be going with a miniature shmup Renaissance happening in the 21st century, and ties it all together with one of the most recognizable games on planet Earth. Space Invaders: Infinity Gene proves that yes, indeed: the king of games strikes back, and even if it has to share its throne with hungier, younger competition, it can hold off its turf with the power of experience.

Hail to the king, baby.

Final Verdict: 10/10 (not an average of individual scores)
_________________
"Enjoy a nice Brown Betty with DEATH! But, but mostly eat death." ~Crow T. Robot~


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