Titan Attacks! is Space Invaders And Then Some. From the get-go, Puppy Games’ self-professed tribute to an all-time great makes no secret of who its heroes are. Alien ships crawl from left to right, descending at the end of each full length, while you roll across the bottom and take them out. Motherships glide across the top of the screen, taunting your terrible aim with their diminutive size. The game even takes place in a 4:3 play area, harking back to arcade cabinets of old.
However, these are where the copycat similarities end. Puppy Games built upon a typical tower-defence game with Revenge of the Titans by adding vast upgrade trees and enemies with the brain-power to actively attack turrets. Much in the same way, their version of Space Invaders delivers a number of twists on what others would simply clone and let alone. The result is a sharp and pure love letter to shoot-em-ups across the ages, but one that distinctly does its own thing too.
As you take in the Earth, Moon and planets beyond in a war across the galaxy - referred to as you invading the aliens after Earth, ha ha! - the aliens upgrade their arcade game encyclopedias. They’ll start to fly and roll into the screen in formation, like they do in Galaga. Some will descend the screen, firing at you, Galaxian-style. Firepower grows, culminating in laser beams and explosive minions, the shockwave of which cuts you off from part of the level until it clears.
They’ll even crash to the ground when hit instead of simply exploding; when compounded with the Asteroids of later levels it rapidly becomes clear that there is no such thing as a safe place to be. What began as Space Invaders becomes an amalgamation of classics, a Now: That’s What I Call Shmups compilation of never-ending blaster fire and swooping alien beasties.
I could say that much like Gradius Titan Attacks! allows you to upgrade your weapons, but it’s nothing like Gradius at all. A cash stockpile is built up by blowing up ships and capturing aliens occasionally parachuting from the wreckage - provided you don’t accidentally shoot the latter in the air. Cash can be used to upgrade firepower, the number of bullets fired at once as well as the number of guns, turning your diminutive pea-shooter into a bulky space-shooter Rambo, packed to the gills with explosive delights.
That said, upgrades - and high scores - are only really possible through feats of genuine skill. The money in the bank is also used to top up your shield, with each chunk of shield costing more each time - but it’s not a permanent upgrade. The same chunk of shield costs the same to top up again if it’s taken out by enemy fire. Taking a hit also renders your multiplier, built up by surviving a wave damage-free, up to a maximum of 9, null and void.
Saving enough dough for devastating upgrades demands that you dodge every last laser that rains down on you, or else face a hefty bill to reinstate lost protection. Expect to blow your entire budget on shields for your first few games, all the while agonising over parachuting aliens you keep catching in stray gunfire. Don’t expect to make the leaderboards those first tentative goes either.
During my time with Titan Attacks! a single word has stuck in my head: evolution. The enemies level up, bringing movement patterns of the past with firepower of the future; your ship physically grows as you attach your own bigger, better guns. However, you evolve as a player too. There’s a rapid sense of progression between each stage - some of which only last a few seconds if you have the right weapons - and you become more aware of your mistakes as you go. You’ll spot the explosive chaps as they fall, diving to the side of the screen; you’ll duck and dive through hellfire to shoot falling ships and catch escaping pilots.
It becomes a seemingly never-ending loop of shooting and upgrading, shooting and upgrading, and suddenly you’re blown up on Wave 100 by a boss who mocks your weapons with a giant laser beam. And it’s three in the morning.
It’s much too easy to hit Start again and chase your high-score. You can’t stop evolution.