Space Invaders Infinite Gene is a SHMUP based on the Space Invaders franchise that evolves the game from the simple side to side shooting of the past. You start out the first level playing a classic game of Space Invaders with only one ship type to choose from and basic enemies to fight but as you gain points the game evolves. It’s a nice goal to shoot for while playing levels that gives a reason to go for a high score other than pride but there was some disappointment involved when I worked hard to fill up the bar and all I got was a new song for my music collection half the time.
The meaningful evolutions are bonus level unlocks, more lives at the start of your play through, and new ships to choose from. I really liked how different the ships’ weapons felt even though each ship only had one way to shoot. These range from missiles that lock on enemies in front and behind you, a ship with drones that follow your movements and fire whenever the main ship fires, and my personal favorite a ship that has an adjustable kill-field around it which shoots anything that steps inside.
The last ship is great because it has an element of risk/reward. The smaller you make the range of the kill-field the more damage it does. So while smaller enemies can be taken out easily if you want to kill larger enemies in time to continue your combo you’ll have to decrease your safety zone. That said some of the bosses seem far too easy if you pick the right ship and the kill-field ship completely decimated the final boss without a prayer which was a real let down after working so hard to get there.
Most weapons can be upgraded by picking up power-ups dropped by enemies in the levels (specifically the UFO shaped enemies), but there is no branching system so you’re stuck with whatever weapon you chose until you die or quit that play through. Though the original Space Invaders didn’t have a ton of enemy variety, Infinite Gene has no such problem. There are a multitude of different enemies that help to keep the levels unique and the bosses in particular were interesting with all kinds of different strategies necessary to kill them. The game saves after each 1-2 minute level so it’s perfect for quick pick up and play sessions which is unsurprising since it originated on a handheld platform.
My only real issue with the gameplay is that it seemed to get me with quite a few cheap unavoidable deaths that I hated. I can deal with enemies coming from all sides of the screen but when things just appear out of nowhere and kill me it can get irritating. It also got pretty repetitive once I played through the normal game and the bonus levels threw the same bosses at me 3 or 4 times. I really started to miss the excitement and intrigue of coming across a new enemy and figuring out how best to dispatch it.
Much like the original game Space Invaders Infinite Gene has no discernible story and I would assume that’s just how fans of the franchise want it. You don’t need long diatribes about the inner feelings of the pilot or a controversial tale from the point of view of the enemies. Something from space is invading and you need to kill it. Even without a story there is a kind of general theme to Infinite Gene that pervades throughout the gameplay and presentation with level names like Horizontal Translation and Nonsense Mutation.
While I enjoy any reference to Genetics in gaming I was disappointed in how the names didn’t seem to have any relation to what was presented in the levels other than a few stand-outs. Similarly disappointing was the music mode which promises to create levels based off music on your console, but while playing these music levels I never got any feeling that the music and the gameplay were connected. I tested a few songs multiple times and it is clear that the same song will produce the same level every time so it’s not as though the developers are lying when they say that the song is used to create the level.
Since the gameplay has almost completely changed from the original the presentation was the main source of nostalgia for me while playing Infinite Gene. Although the ships are different and a lot of the enemies are different it is still all presented in a way that makes the source material obvious. While a lot of the time this is enjoyable I started to notice that it’s hard to not let things get repetitive when you’re stuck to such a strict aesthetic style.
The developers tried to add a bit of variety by changing the perspective of some parts of the game so that instead of moving up and down the ship moved in and out of the TV but it was difficult to get your bearings in 3D with such simple visuals. I also had trouble telling what shapes were just background for the levels and which were obstacles that I had to avoid. Sure the background was more dulled out and grey than white but that’s a hard distinction to make sometimes while you’re dodging a barrage of bullets.
Sound design was a mix of techno music and sound effects that would fit right in at a 70’s arcade. I enjoyed the sound effects more so than the music but it was nice to see that every song had 5 or 6 versions when you added them to your collection so there’s a good amount of variety to the music.
Value is probably Infinity Gene’s best quality even though the main game’s normal play through only took me 2 hours. For ten dollars you get the normal mode with 4 unlockable difficulties, twelve bonus levels, randomly generated challenge levels which differ each time you play, and music mode which I mentioned earlier. It took me 5 and a half hours total to earn the final evolution and if I wanted there were still more challenge levels I could have tried out.
While Infinity Gene may have lost the nostalgia factor if it updated the graphics too much I feel like the presentation and gameplay could have greatly benefited. Cheap deaths from instantly spawning enemies and indiscernible obstacles/background got somewhat annoying and after a while the visuals made the game feel repetitive. But the gameplay was fun when I was alive, I loved how different each weapon was, and the amount of modes and playtime for 10 dollars is quite impressive. If you want a pang of the good old days wrapped in a fun SHMUP you should definitely give this one a look.