Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Space Invaders Infinity Gene

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Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Release Date: July 27, 2009
Systems: iPhone/iPod Touch (reviewed), other mobile phones
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

0:00 After hearing our own Ryan Kuo and countless others absolutely GUSH about this for weeks, I finally decided to plunk down the $4.99. I liked Space Invaders Extreme well enough, but I'm wary of how the iPhone's touch controls will work...

0:01 An incredibly old-school black-and-white intro screen shows the points scored for dead enemies. It even has a "Credits: 1" message in the corner." After some loading, I hear waves washing over a bit-tune violin on the options screen. Eerie.

0:02 The available difficulties are Easy and Normal. I'm betting Normal is more like a normal Hard, but I'm feeling gutsy.

0:03 "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," reads the introductory Darwin quote. "The king of games strikes back!" Eep! Wait, the king? Space Invaders hasn't been king for decades! Anyway, it starts out just like the old-school classic, with a ship that fires automatically and is slid back and forth by my thumb. This quickly transitions to Level 1-1, "Adaptive Radiation," which is much faster-paced and includes some large Invaders that throw off bright white shrapnel and explosions as they're hit. Digging it already...

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

0:05 When I finish the level, a big "EVOLUTION!" message comes up. I accidentally tap too fast and don't see what new feature I got. Oh well. Level 1-2 is "Genetic Diversity." It includes a few rows of never-ending Invader streams that are hard to shoot through but whose shots are easy enough to dodge. In the end, I find I got a "122 chain," but no "Nagoya Attack," whatever that is.

0:08 Thanks to my latest evolution, power-up items fall when I hit the UFO enemies in Level 1-3. They're hard to hit initially, but much easier once the power-ups give me a speedier double shot. In fact, these let me decimate the opposition pretty quickly with some impressive, single-color explosions. A maximum of "120 chain" this time...

0:09 Level 1-4 has a row of Invaders with periodic shields. They also have a new laser attack that turns at sharp right angles. This one can't be deflected by my shots.

0:11 Level 1-5 is pretty boring, comparatively ... just a bunch of Invaders falling quickly towards me in diagonal patterns. Feels more like a Galaga clone than a Space Invaders clone. When I evolve, I'm told "shooting while your ship is under suspension will increase shot speed." Under suspension? Like, not moving? Or like under the Brooklyn Bridge?

0:12 At the start of Level 1-6, "Apoptosis," I get a warning. "Emergency: Eliminate the unsuspected enemy." It's a big, phallic gun with a thick, white discharge. I shoot it a lot, but I don't know if I'm doing any damage ... the shots seem to bounce off. I lose two of my three lives relatively quickly because I'm just not careful enough with the thick, white discharge it lets out (ew). Eventually it gets tired of shooting me, I guess, and runs off. I get no points for the level, but "Stage level has evolved to level 2," apparently, so yay.

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0:16 In Level 2-1 the background changed from plain gray to something straight out of We Have Lasers. Also, the enemies aren't just standard, old-school Invaders now, but big, white, angular ships that look like something out of Tron or Star Fox. One section included concentric rings of enemies that don't seem to harm me. Oh, and the end-level boss shoots little space Invaders from his gun. Despite this, I manage to defeat him primarily by standing still in the center of the screen. Sigh.

0:19 "Free move: All direction movement is now available." Holy crap, this changes everything! At least it feels like it does. Now I can move up the screen right next to an enemy to defeat it more quickly, instead of trying to lead my shots from the bottom. Also, I can go right up and get the power-ups instead of waiting for them to fall. This is barely Space Invaders anymore ... just a shmup with a somewhat familiar aesthetic, as far as I'm concerned.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

0:20 My latest upgrade: "Penetration: Now you can penetrate the enemy shots at the timing of 'immediately after the fire.'" That's what she said! Wait ... that doesn't make sense. Then again, neither does that description...

0:21 On to Level 2-3, where Invaders dash in from sides, stop just off the edge of the screen, fire for a second, then go away just as quickly. They ram right into me as I go for a power-up, before I can even react. Annoying. Upon choosing "Retry" from the Game Over screen, I can now choose Rapid Shot or Search Laser as my weapon. Um ... let's try the Search Laser, just to see what it's like.

0:24 So the Search Laser starts out way too slow, but as I kill UFOs and get power-ups it gets faster and better. Makes the level-ending boss pretty easy, too ... I just sit to the side of his spread shot and let the laser hone in on him. By the way, the Nagoya Attack is a new bonus for every "Penetration." What is this, a frat house?

0:25 Level 2-5 is called "Homologus Recombination" and features bouncing balls that leave deadly white line trails. It's nearly impossible to hit them with this slow-ass laser, and I die rather quickly. Well, I gave it a try ... back to the dual shot for me!

0:29 Wow, that level got pretty intense. At one point, the screen was so full of those those non-lethal enemies (perhaps they're items?) that I could barely see my ship. I lose two lives to the boss, who has a seemingly impenetrable shield of rotating white lines and eventually flies away when I can't kill him. That's a stumper right there...

0:31 I generally like the controls, but sometimes I find the ship tends to float behind my thumb, even if it started slightly above it. Odd, that...

0:34 I simply love my newly acquired Wave weapon. It reminds me of the Ripple attack from Gradius, only it's not so weak and it actually goes THROUGH enemies! Makes having to aim a thing of the past. Anyway, I die quickly and stupidly to a boss that teleports around the field in what I now see is a predictable pattern.

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0:37 When I replay the level, the boss goes down easy. I think I've figured out my control problem too. It stems from the fact that the ship can't move as fast as my thumb, causing the two to get out of sync.

0:38 The Level 2-6 boss battle is a little bullet-hellish for me, with near-continuous lines of solid white dots I have to navigate between. Things get a bit hairy when I lose the ship under my thumb, but I luck into a mid-screen position where I seem totally safe from bullets. "Stage level has evolved to 3." Huzzah!

0:39 The techno soundtrack has been uniformly excellent so far, but this new song, with its strong two-note string sample, is my favorite.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

0:40 Apparently that scrolling white line pattern on the edge of the screen is a deadly wall, not just background decoration. Who knew?!

0:43 Enemies are coming from the bottom of the screen more frequently now, making me wish my hands were translucent so I could see them coming. As it is, they keep taking me by surprise.

0:44 "Warning. A huge enemy 'The Moon' has broken into the battle." It looks more like a giant tuning fork than a moon, but his bark is worse than his bite. He moves erratically, but his diamond-shaped attacks are easily repelled by my wave weapon.

0:45 Level 3-2 is called "Horizontal Gene Transfer" and makes me wish I'd been writing down all these excellently weird genetic level names so far.

0:47 OK, this latest level reminds me more of a vertically-scrolling Gradius II stage than anything from the Space Invaders games. There are even wall-mounted guns scrolling by.

0:48 Crafting every game object in a single color looks great, but it has a big problem: killer thin white lines and benign thin white lines look exactly the same...

0:50 When I take on a horde of spinning pinwheel enemies, the game slows to a crawl. It's like a live-action slow-motion replay, here.

0:51 "'The Sun' has broken into the battle." At least this one looks kind of like a sun, in that it's round. It sends out big, screen-spanning killer lines. The only way to avoid them is by ducking behind some barriers at the bottom of the screen. Of course, these are hard to navigate around with my STUPID OPAQUE THUMBS in the way.

0:55 At least I go right back to the Sun boss on choosing to Retry. Of course, that means I have next to no power-ups, and there are no UFOs in sight to provide them. It's OK ... now that I know the pattern, it's pretty easy to plan my trips behind the barriers.

0:56 From the Sun we go straight into a boss battle with a "GIANT UFO." It scrolls by like the Star Destroyer at the beginning of Star Wars, just to show off its awesome hugeness, I guess. A few roving lasers on the underside are kind of hard to dodge. At one point I end up above the UFO, unable to fire downward to hit it. It takes up so much freaking screen estate I have no room to maneuver around the normal Invaders flying about.

1:00 This time I stay under the UFO, and it literally crushes me against the bottom of the screen. I always wondered why huge bosses didn't do that more often in these types of games. Now I know why ... it's super-annoying!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? It makes my brain hurt, but in a good way!

This column is based on a downloadable copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.

For more, read Ryan Kuo's Playing to Infinity: Space Invaders Infinity Gene.

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