Review by Coolhand

"An addictive and fast-paced shooter that's sure to 'evolve' into a real time-consumer."

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an expanded version of the Japanese mobile-phone version of the same name, produced by Taito, the original innovators behind the iconic Space Invaders back in 1979. Selling in the iTunes App Store for $4.99, the game is a tremendous re-imagining of the original that manages to capture the feel of the original game without feeling hackneyed or like a cash-in.

At its core the game is vertical-scrolling shoot-em-up ("shmup"). In the first level of the game, you control a ship with lateral left-to-right movement and an upward-firing cannon. You may choose from the outset to have auto-fire or manual-fire modes. The first level plays very much like the classic Space Invaders, but almost immediately the game begins to evolve. Immediately you will unlock the ability to move your ship about the entire screen, and enemies will begin appearing from all points off-screen as well as appearing from relative thin air on-screen. The original Space Invaders presented the player with two types of enemies, essentially - the "flying saucer" that would cross the top of the screen at seemingly intervals, and the ubiquitous "goblin" style enemy that moves back and forth across the screen and periodically lob a killing shot at the player's ship. In this new re-imagined version, some of the enemies you will face will fill a goodly portion of the touch-screen.

As you play through the game and accrue points, you will fill a "Gene" bar at the end of each stage. Every time the bar fills, the game will undergo an "evolution" that will open up new music, new graphics, varying difficulty levels, new bonus stages, and, most enticingly, new weapons and game features, like the ability to select a higher stock of ships to tackle the game with. From rapid-fire lasers to homing beams to some truly cool items like a black-hole cannon (which is far more useful than it may first appear) and a cannon that freezes time around the area of impact, the game offers a lot of implements of destruction to play with.

These "evolutions" are displayed (and can be selected) in the game's menu, which appears as a sort of evolutionary tree - simply follow the branches to the options or stages you want to check out. The game has a truly impressive amount of unlockables that will keep you pulling out your iPhone whenever you have a few minutes to spare.

By the numbers:
GRAPHICS - 7 out of 10:
The iPhone is not on a par with more dedicated handheld gaming platforms, but it's definitely capable of graphics that are better than this. That's not the point, however; this is Space Invaders, after all. The graphics are simple, using lots of isometric shapes and geometric figures, as well as pulsing, brightly-colored lines and shapes. You'll quickly get the feel for what's what, and the vibrant backgrounds (timed well with the music) make it easy to get pretty fixated. My only complaint with the graphics is that at times the game background will be laced-through with lines that streak across the screen. It's not too hard to mistake these background features for laser beams - a time or two I've swerved to avoid one and gotten myself blown up. This doesn't happen very often, however. The game is loaded with artistic style, to be sure, and it works wonderfully well for a shooter with this game's lineage.

STORY - N/A:
I'm not sure you can still call it a Space Invaders game if there's a story. It's you and your ship against hordes of enemies intent on blowing you to bits.

SOUND / MUSIC - 8 out of 10:
The game really shines here. There is a big variety of SFX, many recognizable as being from (or at least derived from) the original arcade game. The sounds are remixed and given new treatments, making them recognizable but still new. The in-game music is a thumping electronica score reminiscent of Galaga Legions on the Xbox Live Arcade. It's well-suited to the game's tempo, but does get just a bit repetitive - a few more tracks would have been nice. You can also play "Music Levels" using the music you have stored on your iPod Touch or iPhone - more on that in a bit.

GAMEPLAY - 9 out of 10:
The meat of the game is definitely in its execution. The touch controls are smooth and fluid and the only time I've found a problem with them is when the game approaches "bullet hell" shmup standards - at that point your own finger becomes a bit of an enemy, because you can't see EVERY enemy shot. It bears noting that some enemy shots can be destroyed - and you'll definitely want to know which ones, because at times you'll have destructible shots you can clear from your path and shots that you must avoid on-screen at the same time. Plotting your passage through the hail of fire becomes very tactical.

The weapons change the game a great deal; you will try to rack up "chains" of kills to maximize your score and thereby accelerate your evolution. Experimentation will show you what weapons work best for each stage. While you can re-visit and re-play a stage at any time, you cannot take a breather between stages when playing linearly, to select a different weapon type. This would be a nice feature, albeit a bit of a flow-breaking one.

The game boasts 38 standard levels, and with all the evolutions available and the permutations possible by combining stages with different weapons, you'll want to keep this game on your device for a good while. But if that wasn't enough, the game boasts a "music mode," which allows you to play a wholly original stage that is dictated by a song you select from your own music collection on your device. Each stage in this mode will be unique - they do not follow the tempo or BPM of the music you select, but are dictated by the song data. If you and a friend were to both play a stage on your respective iPhones to the same song, you would get the same stage - but if you pick two different songs you will get entirely different levels with different challenges. Right now I have about 4000 stages to play through - I've found that Beethoven's 5th actually makes for a very challenging level. This music mode gives the game near infinite replayability, though not every song generates a really engaging level. The game also does not record score for purposes of evolutions in Music mode, which would be nice.

Some high-score tracking system would be cool to see - it'd be really neat to see the game implement some form of worldwide leader boards. Perhaps Taito can address this in a later update.

All of them are very minor complaints, however. Space Invaders Infinity Gene is easily played for a few minutes at a time while waiting for the bus, but it's not hard to sit down and lose an hour or two racking up evolutions to see what the game offers next.

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Like Pac-Man C.E. and Galaga Legions for the Xbox Live Arcade, this game manages to put a new spin on a classic that is highly enjoyable and worth the price of admission. It's a great purchase for anyone that likes games with a retro feel, or a fondness for shooters. If you own an iPhone and are a shmup fan, I highly recommend the game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/24/09

Game Release: Space Invaders Infinity Gene (US, 07/27/09)


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