In 2028, when 3D holodecks are in every strip mall and we'll be able to have games downloaded directly into our brains, we'll look back wistfully on the hits of 2008. Wasn't "Grand Theft Auto IV" quaint, we'll muse. Aren't our alien overlords much nicer than that nasty Locust Horde in "Gears of War 2"?
That's assuming that the games of today have the staying power of those we played 20 years ago. Every time someone cracks open a fresh new game like "Grid" or "Metal Gear Solid 4," someone else is discovering or revisiting a classic like "Frogger" or "Donkey Kong." Sometimes I'll dip into "Ms. Pac-Man" or "Tetris," only to realize a couple hours later how quickly the time has passed.
The legendary games of the 1970s and '80s have been subjected to frequent updates, which usually dilute the charm of the originals. Taito, however, has refurbished two of its biggest hits with some clever innovations that should please newcomers and old fans alike.
_"Space Invaders Extreme" (Square Enix, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, $19.99): Five rows of aliens are slowly approaching, and you have to destroy them with your laser cannon before they land. That's the essence of "Space Invaders," which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with an electrifying revamp.
The first thing fans will notice is that the bunkers, which you could hide your ship behind, are gone. There are far fewer enemies onscreen at any time; during the occasional "boss" encounters, you may be facing just one big alien. The levels zip by really quickly, and most players will be content to simply rest a thumb on the fire button and blast away.
If you want to rack up high scores, though, you need to keep one simple strategy in mind: Try to hit aliens of the same color consecutively. If you succeed, you're blessed with more powerful weapons or shields. That simple addition adds some real juice _ and a lot of replay value _ to a time-tested formula, making "SIE" a bargain at only $20. Three stars out of four.
_"Arkanoid DS" (Square Enix, Nintendo DS, $19.99): One of my favorite games of the '80s was Taito's "Arkanoid," a variation on Atari's "Breakout," in which the object was to destroy a cluster of blocks by bouncing a ball into them. "Arkanoid" innovated by adding power-ups that, for example, made your paddle longer, slowed down the ball or gave you lasers that you could used to shoot the blocks directly.
"Arkanoid DS" delivers 140 levels with increasingly difficult formations to eliminate. The major addition is a "quest" mode that lets you tackle any of the screens you've already completed but tacks on some restraints. You may be given a time limit, for instance, or be limited to hitting the ball a certain number of times.
The "Arkanoid" makeover isn't as radical as "Space Invaders Extreme," but the core gameplay holds up. (Both games, by the way, allow multiplayer competition.) It's a solid little portable time-killer that outclasses most newer puzzle games. Two-and-a-half stars.
_"Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy" (Majesco, Wii, $39.99): "Blast Works" doesn't have the name recognition of the Taito titles, but it certainly has the look and feel of an old-school arcade game. Based on an indie PC game, it's essentially a side-scrolling shooter like "R-Type" or "Gradius."
It adds one brilliant gimmick: when you destroy an enemy, you can add its weapons to your vehicle. Enemies' parts cling to your ship, sometimes awkwardly; if a gun is pointing up when it gets stuck, it will fire bullets upward. The haphazard buildup of parts around your ship makes "Blast Works" look like a cross between "Defender" and "Katamari Damacy."
The package includes a basic editing program that lets you build your own levels. It's a bit more complicated than it needs to be, but does offer the promise that other users will be creating new levels that you can download once you're finished with the main game. "Blast Works" looks primitive, even compared with some '80s favorites, but it's certainly original. Two-and-a-half stars.
On the Net:
_"Space Invaders Extreme": http://www.taito.com/csm/title/2008/sie/
_"Arkanoid DS": http://www.taito.com/csm/title/2008/arkanoid_ds/
_"Blast Works": http://www.blastworksgame.com/