Once in a very, very long while, a company doesn’t just go through the motions in updating a classic video game—it actually re-defines it for a new generation. As game lovers know, this almost never happens, as game companies more frequently use re-releases as mere cash-in opportunities, trust the wrong teams to improve upon their past designs, or miss the mark for other reasons. Case in point: Namco’s series of Pac-Man and Pole Position games for the iPod, which despite our love for the company’s other titles (Pac-Man Championship Edition, anyone?) add little on the iPod to the early 1980s titles they were based upon, and in some cases even detracted from our memories of them.
Nothing about the name of Taito’s Space Invaders Extreme would lead people to think that it would be any different from the many other “remixes” of arcade games we’ve seen—say nothing of the many forgettable Space Invaders sequels and clones that have plopped onto game machines for the past 30, yes, 30 years since the original’s release in 1978. But this is mercifully, amazingly, not your dad’s Space Invaders. It’s inherently the same premise, having you control a left- and right-moving cannon at the bottom of the screen while waves of aliens try to avoid being shot above it. But it’s newly inspired by dance clubs and Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s amazing games Rez and Lumines, and made relevant with power-ups and amusing pokes at its own heritage. I strongly recommend watching the video here, though it doesn’t capture the impressiveness of the real-life detail in the game’s art.
Gyrations in the background art and music are accompanied by Rez-like notes when your screen-sweeping cannon fires off shots. The Invaders sometimes flip on their sides, becoming pixel-thin, as a joke about their pixel-heavy, two-dimensional art. And they drop block-like icons that give you block-like blasters to eliminate them in waves, rather than just one at a time.
Bonus stages interrupt each level if you can find ways to unlock them, leading to more frenzied alien destruction—a ton of fun, even though the core characters, almost laughable-looking creatures, are basically just like the ones in the original arcade game. Outlines, shadows, and colors make them more interesting visually, while little additions—aliens carrying shields, and much-changed movement patterns—start you off thinking that you already know who they are, only to change things up on you seconds later.
Then there are the boss and boss-like encounters, which either interrupt or end the stage with opportunities to take out much larger aliens or collections of aliens with precise shots. Again, like Peggle for the iPod, you have to ignore little goofy elements of the design—here, the “eXtreme” -ness of it all—and just enjoy the game for what it is. Frankly, like the gameplay, most of the art moves so quickly that you won’t even notice some of the visual oddities. Most of it is really cool.
So how do you get it? Space Invaders Extreme is a Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable title, and available as a free downloadable demo for PSP owners right now. Cool, right? Well, the full game was just released in Japan for a little under $40—full pricing by portable game standards—which is odd in the sense that classic games are often budget titles, but somewhat understandable given how radically improved Extreme happens to be. When it comes to the United States in June, however, Taito has apparently said that it’s going to sell for $20, which would make a lot more sense if the company actually wants people to buy it.
This leads me to a fairly obvious question: how much would Apple have to let a developer charge for a game like this before it would make an appearance on the iPod or iPhone? It’s obvious that no one is putting this sort of time or effort into the $5 iPod games we’ve seen for the past year or so, yet unlike the Nintendo DS or PSP, a company such as Taito has zero cost of manufacturing, zero cost of packaging, and only a specified cut to give to Apple for selling through the iTunes Store. What is the dollar amount at which the costs of coding and marketing for iPod, given its user base and projected sales, make as much or more sense than trying to make DS cartridges or PSP discs?
The number is probably lower than $20. If Taito can afford to make a cartridge, package it, ship it, and put it in a physical store for that price, it can afford to sell it through iTunes for less. How much less? Any thoughts, readers? And would you pay more to get games that are better than cell phone ports, or is the iTunes Store’s $5 price cap just right in your view?