Starting life as an iPhone game, Space Invaders Infinity Gene got a major high-def upgrade and, more importantly, the ability to be played with a controller when it was ported to Xbox Live Arcade. So now it's actually playable and fun, two important features needed in any bullet hell shooter. While this takes heavy inspiration from Space Invaders and early video games-- if you've played a Vectrex you should feel warm and fuzzy here-- it seems to have more in common with Raiden or Salamander than its namesake. It's also a heck of a lot of fun.
$10 (800 MS points)
What you need to know: it comes with over 100 stages (although not in the normal game mode), local single-player play, and a whole mess of upgradable weapons. There are also numerous bonus modes and difficulty levels.
Rather than move in a line at the bottom of the screen, the game gives you the ability to move anywhere on the playing field early on. This is important, because otherwise you're guaranteed to die. The game's control is tight, and simple: move the ship, and push a button to shoot. That's really all there is to it, it was designed so you don't need to memorize a whole slew of complex commands.
The only place where it starts to falter is when it loses perspective-- the game is a 2D on 3D rails sort of a game, and when the perspective shifts sometimes it's really tough to line up your shots just right. Of course, this can be remedied through use of some of the more dangerous homing weapons. In general the game doesn't feel like it breaks much new ground, but it does pull together a lot of what made the past 30 years of shooters great.
Aside from the default cannon, there are a number of really fun weapons. "Option" is essentially a riff on Gradius' companion modules, and there are black hole guns, homing guns, wave guns, and enough variety that your constant deaths won't be as burdensome to you. After all, if you don't pass a level, you get another shot at it with a different means of attack of your choosing.
Graphics & Sound
Taito's developers spent a ton of man hours to create a totally amazing animated 3D UFO that looks like it's barely more advanced than an early black-and-white vector arcade game. The enemies, a mix of vintage Space Invaders sprites anew grey 3D polygonal spacecraft, mesh nicely against the sampled old arcade sound effects and really excellent electronic soundtrack.
A benefit of the graphics, which combine one or two (at most) colors with many shades of grey, is that they really do create a grand sense of scale-- you're a tiny little ship attacking a lot of other beings and spacecraft, but sometimes you go head-to-head with a giant UFO that takes up several screens. You can fly over its surface and shoot down gun towers, making some stages of Infinity Gene feel like a truly successful version of what Atari tried to accomplish with the original Star Wars arcade game.
The music in this game is shockingly good for a downloadable title. It doesn't grate on you, and at 2+ minutes per track, doesn't get too repetitive. I would even go as far as to say it's worth looking up the soundtrack, if you're in to such things.
Other Modes and Achievements
While not tested, the game boasts a mode which somehow creates stages based on the music playlists already on your Xbox 360. As we do not use the Xbox for music, we'll assume this is a nice thing to have because it doesn't sound like much of a selling point. There are also a number of unlockable bonus stages which, while fun, don't bring much to the table other than more playable levels. And really, there's nothing wrong with more, playable levels.
Achievements are somewhat difficult to get-- after playing this game for a couple of days, it dawned on me that I still haven't even earned one. As of the first time I beat the game, I had only two. Beating the game on increasingly difficult settings seems to be the order of the day for adding to your gamerscore, as are perfecting chains and beating the game with no continues. Even after you beat the basic game, there's a lot of stuff to keep you trying again to unlock more music, more points, and more stages.
The only thing I'm sure of is that I won't be able to earn all those achievements.
Is it worth buying?
If you like the demo, you're going to enjoy the game. Space Invaders Infinity Gene was one of our favorite shooters in recent memory. The title has a lot of personality and feels like a game you played while staying up too late at a friend's house on a Saturday night around 1982. Or rather, this is the game that would have existed, technology permitting. The demo gives a very good overview of stages scattered throughout the game, so if you get through it you really do have a good idea to expect from the title. I would suggest jumping on this one because it's highly entertaining, not too long (while casually playing it, the main mode took us about a week), and it's actually really fun.
While not what I would call difficult, it is worth noting some boss battles took a lot of time to get through. Thankfully, all those unlockable weapons make replaying the same stage time and again all the more interesting.
Review posted September 27, 2010
We bought a copy... and about six days later a review copy provided by the developer