I have a distinct problem. I may need professional assistance with it. My body craves a sinister addiction that I cannot beat (pun not intended). I’m almost too embarrassed to admit it in public but they say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to beating the problem. So I’ll be honest: I’m addicted to rhythm games. First it was Guitar Hero, the gateway game. Then it was Boom Boom Rocket for that quick afternoon fix. And now Every Extend Extra Extreme (E4) on Xbox Live Arcade comes at me as a happy hardcore substitute. It’s a $10 acid trip that fills in when I can’t rock out to my favorite songs. Read on for more.
Seriously though, I don’t advocate the use of drugs, that is a personal choice between the user and the DEA, but the obvious analogy between E4 and acid dropping is unavoidable. This game, which requires you to navigate a ship around Geiss-inspired backdrops that breed flocks of enemies, is a pulsing visualization suite bent on driving you crazy. Instead of the sensible task of staying alive and amassing points for the slaughter of assorted malicious shapes (although that is available in one of the modes), E4 asks you to do the opposite. You, quite literally, suicide bomb your enemies in hopes that the ensuing chain reaction takes as many of them out as possible. Here’s how it works: You must fly around the screen until you are swarmed by enemies. At the exact moment of critical mass, you detonate your ship. Not only must you time your self-detonation to take out as many bystanders as possible, you must also time your explosion to the beat of the music. Miss the beat and your ship makes a small poof of a pop. Hit the beat dead on and you take out everyone in your immediate vicinity. It’s still possible to take out enemies with a small explosion, but it’s not nearly as effective, or rewarding. That’s about it. Ship? Check. Techno? Check. Explosions? Check. Ridiculously high scores? Check. LSD-inspired visuals? Definitely. Good, now that we’re all on the same page, onto the critique.
Gameplay: I’ll admit, beyond avoiding enemy ships for 3 seconds and timing your impending explosion, there isn’t much game play in the main “Unlimited” mode. That’s it. Navigate your ship to a populated area and pop off your self-destruct feature. Then watch as the screen fills with tiny explosions which chain react into multipliers for getting more and more points. The more multiplier you get, the more points you get and the flashier the graphics dance around. My highest chain reaction was 2122 and it was awesome. After your annihilation is complete, you can collect the floating “power-ups” that are left over from the digital corpses of your enemies. “Quickens” speed up the beats per minute and bring in more and more enemies. When the beats get going faster, it’s harder to hit the beat perfectly… but there are more enemies so its still fun. “Shields” prolong the amount of time you can safely navigate the screen while enemies accumulate… rather line up for slaughter. If your shields go down, the enemies can take you out before your suicide. “Timers” extend the amount of play time you have for a level. You start out with 2 minutes and go from there. Add 5 seconds here and there and you can keep going indefinitely. My longest time was 43 minutes and I garnered 11 trillion points. Yes, 11 Trillion. Finally, there are “Multipliers” that I can only assume boost your score somehow. I’ve been playing E4 for about a week and I’m still not totally sure what all goes into the final score count. As simplistic as this game play sounds, it’s actually quite challenging to balance shield time, detonation/beat time, power-up collection and the countdown timer. Believe me when I say this, your senses will be inundated. Beyond the standard game mode, there is also a shooter-style “kill everything and save yourself” arena. It’s exactly like Mutant Storm Reloaded. And of course there is multiplayer and freestyle modes. I’ll get into a bit more detail on those later.
Graphics: Graphics are tough to grade in E4 because there is SO BLOODY MUCH going on. At any given point, there is your small yellow ship, upwards of a 100 enemies, power-ups, and the some of the craziest background imagery to ever grace a video game. And that’s before your blow yourself up. It only gets wilder afterwards. I’m not sure if the background is supposed to be outer space, inner space (your mind), or some kind of alternate dimension but you can pretty accurately equate it to a rave in your mind. ‘X’ not included. The graphics are simplistic by necessity and are appropriate to the genre. Geometry Wars RE didn’t have wildly detailed graphics either for the same reason. Nobody is looking at graphics when there’s stuff blowing up all around you. I won’t say the graphics are good or bad, just perfectly appropriate.
Sound: Considering the notion that this game is basically an interactive visualization suite for techno music, the music selection should have been a bit more expansive. In the “Unlimited” mode, you get 4 songs from which to choose. Now, before you go off the deep end and say, “OMGZ, 800MSP for 4 songs!?!!11”, can it. There are 4 different modes for single player and an interesting selection for multiplayer over Live. On top of that, the songs vary greatly across the different modes so it’s not “just” 4 songs. However, the need for more diversity is readily apparent. I truly hope that Q? Entertainment adds some DLC to pump up the volume (in every sense of the word). As the “Extreme” in the E4 title goes, the game allows you to “Wiz Ur Muzik” which gives you the ability to play a separate mode to your own tracks. It’s not unlike the freeplay mode in Boom Boom Rocket and I don’t think this was offered in any other versions. Overall, the sound is interesting and should keep you occupied while trying to top your friends’ leaderboard scores.
Replay Value: It is tough for me to nail down a replay value for E4 because it absolutely depends on your gaming style. That could be said about any video game, but most people who like FPS games, buy FPS games. I don’t think the same is true for rhythm games. Each one carries with it a different style that is catered to a certain musical taste. So for me to say, “well, it lasts about as long as Guitar Hero” would be unfair. So I have to put it this way: If you like techno music, and you don’t mind watching stuff blow up, E4 is your game. Will you get bored of it? Well that depends on your tolerance for fast paced electronica or your selection of custom soundtracks. It’s impossible for me to peg it anymore than that. For me, I will probably pick up E4 whenever I need something different than Catan, Puzzle Quest, Halo 3 or Guitar Hero.
Achievements: Hehe, my favorite part of the review. The achievements are perfectly catered to every play style. Whether you’re a gaming novice or a professional scorewhore, you’ll get at least one type or the other. Each are challenging in their own way and are spread out across each mode. I managed to pick up 7 of the 12 in a week’s worth of inconsistant playing. I would have had 8 if I didn’t have to go out for dinner one night with my wife. Oh well, there’s always next time. My favorite achievement is the one that requires you to get a 2000+ chain combo. It’s incredibly frustrating when your explosions mount up to 1800 and then peter out. On the flip side, it’s incredibly rewarding to watch the explosions dwindle to 1 or 2 pops only to ignite the next wave of enemies into a 2000 hit combo. The only achievement I don’t think I’ll ever get is the one that requires 20 wins over Xbox Live. There just aren’t any people playing multiplayer. Ah well, you can’t get ’em all. Verdict: A worthy “trip”.
Conclusion: I have mixed feelings about E4. On the one hand, it can get repetitive listening to the same type of music for 40 minute stretches. This is something that a fresh infusion of DLC could fix. On the other hand, it’s an 800 MSP ($10 USD) experience to watch the pretty explosions and if you’re of the “alternative recreation” crowd, it may be worth the price of admission alone. Again, I’m not advocating or knocking that lifestyle, but it’s honestly applicable. E4 is a very cool, very unique arcade game that brings out the competitive nature in me much like Geometry Wars RE did back in 2005. Plus, there are the many different modes to try out; there has to be at least one that suits each player. Considering that $10 is actually 40 quarters, look at the cup as half full and know you’re getting a lot more than 40 sessions out of this very unique arcade game. As always, at the very least, download the trial game and give it a spin. You may find a new addiction.
Special thanks to Q? Entertainment for providing a review copy of the game!
Dave “Whet Wurm” Wetty