Space Invaders gets re-imagined and remade all the time, and nobody bats an eyelid. But every so often one of these games does something interesting or different. Voxel Invaders mixes Space Invaders with the Galaxian/Galaga formula of wraparound screens and kamikaze dives, throws in a little modern space shoot-‘em-up, and wraps it all in voxel-based graphics — voxels are three-dimensional pixels.
When it’s not destroying you with overbearing difficulty, Voxel Invaders is a fun game and a cool twist on an arcade classic. There are a number of minor issues, but it’s definitely worth a look.
Your goal in Voxel Invaders is to destroy all the alien ships. They move in fixed patterns, although not necessarily in formation like the original Space Invaders. Some enemies dive suddenly towards you, while others slowly descend down the screen. The screen wraps around, meaning that if enemies leave the screen on the right side they may reappear on the left. Also, any enemies that reach the bottom emerge again from the top after a short delay. Some enemies are destroyed after one hit with a regular shot, but most require multiple hits to knock out.
Early levels are a hybrid of Space Invaders and Galaga.
Power-ups help clear the screen faster, lasting several seconds from the moment you get them. Most power-ups are just more powerful shots — like double-bullets, increased rate of fire, or laser shots — but a few do something more interesting. One shifts the perspective from top-down to first-person, granting temporary invincibility in the process.
You use your finger to move and shoot. You can go anywhere on the screen — not just within the bottom section. Your ship fires automatically so long as you’re touching the screen. You place your finger just beneath the ship, which means that only people with big fingers are likely to have any serious issues. I couldn’t find any options for alternative control schemes, unfortunately, but you can see the area around the ship pretty clearly (except when you manage to get enemies or enemy bullets right behind it).
You start the game with five lives, although you can pick up more along the way. Power-ups and lives get reset each level, so there’s no feeling all-powerful when you get close to the end of the game.
The power-ups are pretty neat, so it’s a shame they expire so quickly.
There are six worlds, each consisting of four levels. Each level is locked until you beat the one immediately before, and this applies independent of your chosen difficulty. If you get halfway through the game in Normal difficulty and decide it’s too hard to continue, you’ll have to start from the beginning again in Easy difficulty — likewise if you want to jump up to hard. This increases replay value, but it’s awfully disheartening for any players who are struggling with the challenge.
True to its source material, Voxel Invaders is a tough game to beat. For the casual gamer, its Normal difficulty mode may seem impossible — although thankfully the Easy mode should be doable. The main issue is that the levels were designed without any checkpoints. Each level is broken into multiple stages — typically ranging from four to ten. If you run out of lives in one of these stages — even on the final stage — guess what? You’ll be playing the entire level over again. This becomes extremely tedious after several tries, and with no option to skip you’ll likely feel frustrated.
Dying in a game like this gets old after a while, especially on the longer levels.
Game designers long ago figured out ways to make games accessible to a broader audience while retaining high challenge for more skilled or masochistic players; they enable level skipping, dock points but allow players to continue, or tune the difficulty based on ability. Voxel Invaders does none of this, and in an age of quick-fix mobile gaming — where a new thrill is mere seconds away at all times — it suffers for it.
Rewarding Your Patience
Those who manage to reach the final couple of worlds are treated to something special. The game transforms into a hybrid of several arcade classics, throwing all the rules it had taught you out the window. One level has you playing a quirky twist on Tetris, where you can shoot the blocks but not rotate or move them. Another appears to be printing out code errors, while the visuals get fuzzy, but the text is an object you can shoot or collide with. The Tunnel world isn’t a shooter at all. My favorite part mixed Breakout with Space Invaders in a fun and unexpected homage to both games.
Levels toward the end of the game ratchet up the creativity.
My only complaint about the final third of the game is that it doesn’t come sooner. You have to struggle through to the limits of the core shooting mechanic, then finally get to something interesting again. The middle section of Voxel Invaders only serves to get in the way of the clever latter stages.
Save the World, Again
Voxel Invaders doesn’t particularly offer anything we haven’t seen before in Space Invaders-style games, but it tackles the genre with a panache that allows it to stand clear from the pack. It’s more difficult than it perhaps should be, and a few of the design choices left me scratching my head. It has a plot so terribly written that I feel as though I’ve fallen back in time to the days when Japanese console games such as Zero Wing were translated into a broken, comedically-poor English. Yet it’s creative and well presented, and nicely executed in spite of these relatively minor hiccups.
At its core, the game is not only competent but also lovingly conceived. Voxel Invaders won’t wow you with its brilliance, or steal hours of your life without you noticing. But it will give you a challenge, a mix of frustration and fun, a chuckle, and — if you spot the references — a knowing smile.