Space Invaders Infinity Gene (XBox Live Arcade/iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


Space Invaders, Taito? In 2010? Really? I mean, we just had Space Invaders Extreme not that long ago... surely that's enough? It jazzed up the age-old formula quite nicely, and there's only so much you can do with Space Invaders.

Isn't there?

Not as far as Taito is concerned, and in an attempt to keep Space Invaders fresh (and raking in the cash), they've given it the most radical reworking of an original game... well, ever, probably.


That's bigger than a typical mothership!

The title screen is odd, and should give you a clue that this isn't going to be your traditional Space Invaders game. Although, when it first kicks off it lulls you into a false sense of security by giving you Spacies, straight-up. Just a few seconds in, though, and it wrenches you through time and space and gives you an Invaders game the like of which you could never have imagined...

When a shooter is as radically overhauled as this, it's difficult to think what it can be compared to. It's a bit obvious to say it's Rez-inspired... just because they're quirky, offbeat shooters doesn't mean they have that much in common. No, Infinity Gene is pretty much its own entity, offering a refreshing take on Space Invaders with enough to link it to the past but with plenty there to enable it to stand proud on its own merits.


Oooh, that looks wrong in a small picture. Anyway, all those bits fly around and need to be shot.

Although the classic invaders appear often, they're almost thrown in as distractions; as if the programmers know you'll recognise them and go after them, when greater enemies are always just around the corner. Huge vector spaceships will appear, taking several shots to dispatch. Bizarre frameworks will appear, with invaders travelling along them and hemming you in. Formations will appear from unexpected places, forcing you out of your comfort zone. Infinity Gene never lets you settle, always throwing new ideas at you, constantly making you adapt.

Fortunately, you're able to even things up a little (albeit just a little). The classic saucers that flit about now drop DNA capsules, and when you pick enough of these up they strengthen your firepower. You're never going to turn into a bullet-hell wielding, all-conquering monster, but at least you've go a bit more than the original's pea-shooter. And as the game progresses, you're able to unlock different types of firepower, some of which you might find useful and some not, depending on how you play.


This lot never give up, do they?

The game also features a number of modes beside the main game, which is quite important in ensuring you'll play it for longer than the customary ten-minute blast. Challenge mode gives you 99 stages to clear (or try to clear), Bonus mode gives you, erm, bonus stages to play, which are unlocked throughout the game... and then there's Music mode.

I love things like this in games. Music mode, as you'd expect, lets you play the game to your own choice of music. Better than that, though, it generates the stage around it. So the number of stages available is limited only by the size of your music collection.


OK, this is just getting insane.

This is awesome. Personally, I'm a big fan of instrumental rock, and it lends itself to this sort of thing extremely well. And from the tracks I've used, there can be an incredible amount of variety to the stages you can get. Yngwie Malmsteen is my favourite guitarist... I can highly recommend his tune "Leviathan" for a fun blast, or "Little Savage", which almost turns this into a racing game!

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an excellent (if slightly mad) reworking of the original arcade classic. The amount of gane you get for your money would make it well worth your while if it was limited to just the main game and the Challenge mode, but with the Music mode giving you so much extra play, it's a steal. Music mode works better on the iPhone/iPod Touch (it's a bit of a pain having to stream playlists on a console, changing tracks on your media player every time), but I prefer the game on the big screen with a "proper" controller. Either way, you can't really go wrong with this.

Super Meat Boy (XBox 360 Live Arcade)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,


I was going to write about something else today, something that I started playing last night, but I didn't bank on XBox Live Arcade throwing three games out on one day, with at least two that I really fancied trying... and ended up buying. So the original offering has been put on hold, and instead I'm going to write about the game that took a solid hour out of my evening without even trying... Super Meat Boy.

To be honest, I'd heard very little about Super Meat Boy before its 360 release, other than the odd comment on a website saying it was "awesome". I like awesome games, so I thought I'd better investigate. It turns out that Meat Boy was a flash game on the Newgrounds website, which instantly brought something else to mind...


She's quite something... you can see why he'd go to all that effort to get her back.

Graphically, it has a certain charm, and this is where the Newgrounds link comes in... it kind of reminds me of Alien Hominid to look at, and Alien Hominid is another game that started life as a flash game and made its way onto the 360. It also reminds me of Alien Hominid in how bastard hard it is. But although there's more to do in Alien Hominid, you're more likely to spend more time with Super Meat Boy, and this is purely down to the superb game design.

You see, the beauty of this game is that when you die, there you are again, ready to throw yourself at the challenge one more time. This instantaneous restart is crucial to the game's hook, because if you had to wait for any kind of loading screen every time you died, your telly would likely have a controller-shaped hole in the middle of it after less than an hour. As it is, every time you die and are frustrated to the point of turning it off, you find yourself unable to resist flinging Super Meat Boy to the right just one more time... nnngggghhhh!!!


Bit like a snail, is Super Meat Boy... just his trail is bloody, rather than slimy.

Adding to the addictiveness is the fact that many levels take between 10 and 30 seconds to complete, and there are tons of them. It's like the most successful handheld games in that regard... it's very easy to just dip in and out of when you've got a bit of free time. If you complete a level fast enough, you get a Grade A+ ranking, and unlock the "Dark World" version of the level... it's the same level, but with loads more added evil. So, effectively you're getting twice as much game for your money. Even better.

I've mentioned that Super Meat Boy is bastard hard. It really is. You're going to die an extraordinary amount of times while playing it. It's also very evil. It has a sick, twisted, black heart... blackened by a profusion of congealed blood. The blood, fantastically, is everywhere. Super Meat Boy himself is blood red, and being a meat boy, contains lots of blood. This blood is spilled, splattered and strewn across the level every time SMB is killed, as you might expect. But the level doesn't reset when you die... the blood remains smeared, caked and splattered all over the scenery. Which is nice.


Replays are hilarious, with every Meat Boy that attempted the level being shown at the same time.

Super Meat Boy is an old-school platform game made new. I've read in a couple of places that it's like Super Mario Bros., which is cobblers as all it shares with that game are the initials and the ability to jump and sprint. If anything it's even more old-school than that. It kind of reminds me of the twisted glee of the torture screens in Creatures on the Commodore 64 in some ways, although the gameplay is pure platform jumpiness, with the odd boss level thrown in for good measure. They've launched it at the sale price of 800 points... I would grab it for that now if you have any interest in leaping about and dying lots.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (XBox Live Arcade)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,


I vividly remember playing the first Tomb Raider game, on my Saturn. There had been a lot of hype before release because, hey, you played as a girl. With boobs, and that. A bit silly really, because the graphics were nowhere near today's standards, and she looked pointier than Madonna in that daft bra.

It was a bit of a shame that so much focus went on this, because Tomb Raider was a fantastic game. A true revolution, it helped to change the course of action-adventure games forever. There were some real, bona-fide jaw-dropping moments in there... the valley of the dinosaurs, where I genuinely dropped my controller in fright (hello, Mr. T-Rex), was especially notable. And there was a bit where the camera panned way, way back to reveal that you were standing on a Sphinx... stunning.


The way it used to be. One step closer, wolves, and the walls get a paint job.

So, Tomb Raider was a real landmark in gaming, and one that I played to completion and thoroughly enjoyed. Sadly, none of the many follow-ups captured my enthusiasm in the same way... the second game was decent (and preferred by many) but I couldn't get on with it, possibly because I was playing it on the PC. Subsequent versions varied in quality, getting worse and worse as the publishers concentrated on Lara's ample charms above gameplay and good ideas.

Lately, with the outsourcing of programming to Crystal Dynamics, things have taken a notable turn for the better. The last couple of games have been critically well-received, and have not been hamstrung by the awful control methods and tedious gameplay which were prevalent for a while. Lara has been getting back into top form. And now, in a very interesting move, she's making a splash with her first download-only game, on XBLA and PSN... Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.


How d'you wanna die? Spear or gun? Either way, it's gonna happen.

There are several things about Guardian of Light that make it notable. For one, the Tomb Raider title has been dropped from the game. That's fair enough... Lara Croft is a big enough name that people know what they're getting from having that name in the title. Or do they? GoL throws enough twists at the formula to make this feel really fresh and different. Most obvious is the two-player co-op gameplay... which although not compulsory, is a brave and interesting move. I haven't had the chance to try it yet, but it promises to be a significantly different game to the single-player experience.


Easy... eeeeeeasy... left a bit... right a bit...

But how's the one-player game? I have to say, I think it's fantastic. Immediately obvious is the panned-out viewpoint. Instead of having the camera close to the action, and therefore all over Lara's curves, this has an isometric 3D viewpoint. It's kind of flickscreen... which sounds weird, but it scrolls when it needs to and then will have you go through a door and into a new area. It works perfectly well, and means you tend to focus on the best and quickest way through.

This is important, because GoL encourages replaying each level by dishing out extra in-game rewards for speed runs. I've never been a great fan of speed runs or replaying games, but I must have completed level one six times now, and still haven't milked it for everything. I happen to think this is an ingenious way of expanding the life of the game, and am very impressed with its implementation.


Lara goes Robotron... or maybe Black Widow, given the horde of attacking spiders.

And what of the gameplay itself? Well, that may be the most radical change of all. The best way to describe it (seriously) is as a twin-stick puzzle-platforming arena shooter. That's a fair old hybrid, but GoL manages to blend all of those elements into a perfectly cohesive and very enjoyable game. The zoomed-out viewpoint means that more attention is paid to the game than the protagonist, and that focus has helped to ensure you get a cracking gaming experience.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light costs 1200 points on XBLA. It's a huge download... 2.02GB. You can't help but wonder if a disc-based release might have been better, but then again they'd have had to charge more for that, and it represents really good value for money as it is. That hard drive space isn't wasted... there are fourteen levels in the game, and they're a good size too. There's a heck of a lot to do, it's all entertaining stuff, and there's plenty of replay value too. It's easily one of the best XBLA games so far, a damn good game in its own right and a really pleasant and welcome surprise.

Doppelganger (XBLA Indie Games)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,


Just a quick little post to tell you about something I picked up on a whim today. It's called Doppelganger, and it costs a mammoth 80 points on XBox Live Arcade's Indie Games.

Oh, alright... that would be a bit too quick. I'll go into a bit more detail.


Awww. Little cute alien versions of Defender's nasty ships. They're all still trying to kill you, though.

Doppelganger is basically a cross between Defender and Iridis Alpha. Everyone knows Defender. Most people that read this will know Iridis Alpha... for anyone that doesn't, it's a classic shoot 'em up from Jeff Minter, which splits the insanely fast shooting gameplay across two levels on a split screen.

What Doppelganger does is to remake Defender with really cute graphics, and then apply Iridis Alpha's split screen mechanic to it. So if you didn't think that Defender was hard enough as it is, try playing two games of it at the same time.


Top level... bottom level... top level... oh, hell, there's carnage everywhere!

It's not actually as bad, or should I say as hard as it sounds. The levels are kept fairly spacious, with not too many enemies flying around. At least, that's how it is for as far as I've managed to get in the game... doesn't mean it'll stay like that. And that also means in my few quick goes that I wasn't very good at it. Still, for 80 points I would say that Doppelganger is going to give me way more than my money's worth. It's a lot of fun and promises to be a real challenge for any old-school arcade shooter fan.

Darwinia (PC, Xbox 360 (XBLA))

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,


I've read a lot about Darwinia over time, and it's always been highly recommended. I've never been sure that it was for me, though, but with it being on special offer on Steam a while back, I figured I'd pick it up for the purposes of this blog, and if I liked it, so much the better.

It gets off to a good start, with lots of lovely retro touches appealing to the old-school gamer in me. There are distinct throwbacks to the Spectrum and the Amiga, providing an instant pull, although they're purely presentational. Still, they got me in, which was a good start.

Trouble is, the rest of the game had me baffled.


He's telling me I need to create an engineer to fix that building. The place to do that is quite far away...

I lay part of the blame with the game itself... it doesn't really signpost you at the beginning. Seasoned strategists will no doubt not view this as a problem, but for me, I spent ages scrolling around the landscape, looking at the nice things but wondering what on Earth to do with them.

Eventually, I accidentally discovered how to create some units. That was good. Then I put them on the map, and they were all wiped out by the virus that was spreading across the landscape. That was bad.


And there he goes, on his way to repair the building. Sadly, he will be obliterated before he gets there. Every time.

After an hour or so, I stumbled across a set of goals for the level. So I was making progress of a sort, although after another twenty minutes I still didn't have a clue how to achieve the first of the goals.

I swear that as I get older I'm becoming stupid. Also, impatient. I was already aware of the second one... I used to spend hours figuring things out in games, and now I just can't be bothered. It looks like I'm falling victim to today's world of instant gratification. These are two things I'm quite determined to shake... I need my brain to be of a certain standard for one thing, and for another, there's a lot of reward to be found for just a little patience. Darwinia deserves my patience, and the use of my brain. I may be down with this one, but I'm not out just yet...