When it hit arcades, Space Invaders revolutionised video games, making what was viewed by many as a novelty into a global industry. At that same time, it also provided inspiration for a legion of today’s game developers, and this influence is abundantly clear in Titan Attacks from British developer Puppygames. Coming to the PlayStation 4 as a cross-buy title, this tribute to one of the original arcade classics offers a new spin on the old formula, while still capturing the addictive simplicity of the original.
When first firing up the game, its influences are plain to see, as it uses big, blocky, colourful pixels to evoke an eight-bit style, albeit with a modern coating. You’ll find yourself in control of a tank, which can only be moved horizontally along the bottom of the screen. This lone vehicle appears to be the last line of defence against Earth’s invaders, who’ve made the long trip from Saturn's moon of Titan to put an end to our civilisation. As these pesky antagonists progress down the screen towards your solitary defender, you’ll need to kill them all in order to halt their advances and stop your tank from being obliterated.
Based on this setup, you’re probably wondering what sets this title apart from the crowd – and when you play the first stage, there’s not a lot to speak of. However, once you clear it, you’re dropped into a screen that lets you buy upgrades for your tank. These range from consumable items such as shields or smart bombs to those that add permanent upgrades like guns, lasers, and missiles, which increase the destructive output of Earth’s tracked saviour.
Adding an upgrade path to Space Invaders in itself wouldn’t normally be enough to get excited about, but in this case, how you accumulate money and the choices that you have to make when spending it are very well thought out. As you push the alien menace back across the solar system, things get progressively tougher, so if you keep spending cash on shields and smart bombs, you’ll be woefully underprepared for the challenge ahead – especially when you come up against the boss spaceships that act as the climax to each of the game’s five worlds.
As a result, you’ll need to run as close to the edge as you can, keeping the threat of destruction close at hand in order to save the money needed for the bigger upgrades that’ll help you to deal with the harder later stages. Even though the difficulty does ramp up, it’s not quite bullet hell territory, and even when the sky above is packed full of enemies, you’ll never feel like it’s impossible due to the quite lenient hit detection applied to your tank. While it might not scratch the itch for those looking for a really tough challenge, though, it’s still very satisfying to progress from the early levels that you breeze through to stages where you just scrape through by the skin of your teeth.
Since the money that you accumulate is your lifeline for survival, it’s handy that you can increase the rate at which you accumulate funds through the game’s combo system. Clearing a stage without taking a hit makes the combo counter tick up by one – up to a maximum of nine – which increases the amount of money that you’ll earn for each kill, as well as the points added to your leaderboard score. Should you take a hit, though, it’ll reset to zero, so brute forcing your way through stages by letting your shields absorb all of the punishment will result in your upgrades unlocking slowly.
Having to avoid getting hit encourages you to play with finesse, and it’s really fun to try and last as long as you can – especially when you have your sights set on your next big upgrade. There are a couple of downsides to the action, as you’ll often take a hit when there’s too much going on to keep track of, and the boss battles often devolve into wars of attrition, but the systems all gel together really well, so these occasional frustrations are a bit easier to forgive.
Once you’ve made it to Titan and defeated the last of the invaders, you’re sent right back to the start to defend Earth once again. Keeping all of the upgrades that you’ve previously accumulated and facing enemies who can take more punishment, this sort of New Game Plus offers the chance to get those upgrades that you didn’t unlock previously, but primarily acts as an opportunity to push your score as high up the leaderboards as you can. Without the previous checkpointing that let you return to the start of a world with your score, money, and upgrades intact, this time you need to use all of your skill to see how far you can go with only one life. Not only does this add a bit of longevity to the experience – even if it’s only to best the leaderboard scores of others – but it also amps up the consequences of your upgrade decisions, and makes the stakes higher than before, leaving you constantly on edge about how close you are to losing all of your progress.
Titan Attacks is a seriously addictive spin on a classic video game formula that’ll keep you playing beyond your first run through its one hundred stages. From the upgrade system – which at first glance appears to be a minor inclusion, but quickly reveals hidden depths – to the combo counter that encourages you to play intelligently, every mechanic is part of a greater gameplay jigsaw that makes this homage worth invading the PlayStation Store for.