The Trillionaire's Hall of Fame

This will be the first of several games-related posts.

Last winter's week-long power outage would have been much more grueling if not for two things: a gas hot water heater and stove, and my Playstation Portable and a copy of Every Extend Extra. Each day I charged the system via the cigarette lighter in my car during the day and would spend the nights (aka after 5pm when it got dark) playing the game. The house might have been 44-degrees inside, but I was happy. And we still had hot showers.

The crazy action-puzzler not only got a facelift for Xbox Live Arcade this winter, but was added a fourth E. Now the game that previously went by the acronym E3 (no relation to the heavily-gimped videogame expo of the same name) now goes by E4. The extra E naturally stands for EXTREME! What doesn't?

Memo to marketing types: The word "Extreme" officially jumped the shark roughly 5 years with the release of this.

So, anyway, I downloaded this newfangled game Every Extend Extra Extreme (E4) yesterday on the grounds that I sold my PSP and all of the games for it last year and wanted to see if it was as good in the daylight. Imagine my surprise when I realized the this new XBLA edition has four single player modes plus multiplayer. I didn't know where to start so I began on what I gathered was the main gameplay mode, "Unlimited".

Never in the history of videogames has an "Unlimited" mode been meant so literally.

I glanced at the scores of those on my Friends list and noticed that the guy in first had a score of 22 trillion points. That's not a typo. He scored 22,xxx,xxx,xxx,xxx points.

This is a good time to let you know how this game is played. Essentially, you control a small star-shaped "craft" and you fly around the screen (two-dimensions) while tens, if not hundreds, of enemy targets move across the screen towards you. The whole point of the game is for you to detonate your craft in a position to cause the biggest chain reaction as possible. As enemies are detroyed they occasionally release a number of power-ups. You need to collect these power-ups to add time to the ever-dwindling timer, to boost the mulitplier, and to increase the number of enemies that appear at once. The most important thing is gathering up the time-bonuses as you only start with slightly more than 2:00 on the clock and you need to keep the game going indefinitely if you're to get a high score.

This is all very different from how the main mode in the PSP version is played and was quite alarming at first, but I soon got into it.

When you start out the game your score accrues rather slowly, but as you build up your Quicken and Multiplier count (you must always have roughly 4x as many Quicken as Multiplier, else you hit a Multiplier limit -- Quicken count maxes at 380 and Multiplier at 100) you can begin to score very, very impressive combos. For example, it takes about 8 minutes of play to crack the trillion-point mark, but once you get a high enough multiplier and score a Beat Bonus or two (more about that in a moment) you can literally score trillion-point combos. My best combo so far was word 2.3 trillion points. Not too shabby for roughly 30 seconds of watching the screen erupt in a display of dazzling 2D special effects.

If you get shot or you crash before self-detonating the craft you lose your multiplier and Quickens and start back from scratch just like when the game begins, only you still have your points and the timer is still counting down.

E4 also contains a gameplay element known as the Beat Bonus that awards an additional high-level multiplier to an individual combo if you detonate the craft in perfect time with the music's beat. A bar on the bottom of the screen pulses with the roughly 150 beats-per-minute of the music and if you detonate at the exact right moment, you get the 2x, 3x, 4x, or 5x multiplier.

Getting back to the Unlimited aspect of the game: the key to playing the game well and racking up a high score (I eventually scored 48 trillion points and actually allowed the game to end intentionally -- I was playing for nearly 90 minutes) is to not allow the combos to continue too long. Instead, press the B Button to terminate the combo so you can gather up the time-bonuses and other power-ups. Each time a combo ends a new craft appears on the screen and you have three seconds of invulnerability. You can increase this time by collecting the white shield power-ups, but regardless, you simply must play it safe and re-detonate the craft before the shield drops. So long as you prematurely end your chain reactions and make sure to focus on collecting time-bonuses and re-detonating your craft before the shield runs out, you can literally play the game forever.

Ultimately, the only thing that can cause your game to end is your own greed and complacency. It's easy to be lulled into a daze while watching a chain reaction destroy over a thousand enemy craft (I had a chain of 2,341 once) but if you watch the timer and come up with your own "rules of engagement" regarding the amount of time left on the clock, then you should be fine. I try to always keep at least 1:30 on the clock and only let it run below that if I have a Beat Bonus multiplier active. Which brings me to the other hazard: resist the urge to watch the pulsing beat bar on the bottom of the screen. I had the maximum multiplier of 100 tonight and was totally set on keeping it going for as long as possible, that is until I tried to get a 4x Beat Bonus and crashed. The shield timer ran out and I was stupidly watching the pulsing beat bar.

I was trying to get a very specific Achievement and crashed and burned.

But had I have just continued to detonate the ship while the shield was active and not allow chain reactions to go on too long, I could conceivably still be playing the game. Tonight, tomorrow, and possibly tomorrow night too. In actuality, I still could have even after the crash if not for not wanting to build the multiplier back up again. I chose to just let the clock run out and not play anymore.

E4's "Unlimited" mode is endurance gaming at its finest. It's highly repetitive, it's very hard on the eyes, and the music is the type of pulsing electronica that my mom used to swear would one day give her a nervous breakdown. This is the most niche gaming of niche games I'd ever seen, but for some reason I love it.

Blow up the ship, watch the chain reaction, collect the power-ups, and repeat... ad infinitum.

I thought about really giving it my all and seeing how far I could take it if I didn't let the timer run out intentionally; even if it meant rebuilding the multiplier or pausing the game overnight. I thought I might be able to get the highest score on the Leaderboards.

As I suspected, I wasn't alone in that desire. The top score is roughly 2.5 quadrillion points. That's quite a bit more than the 48 trillion I amasssed. It's more than 50x my score actually, even though my score was the 10th highest of the week, it's nowhere near the top scores in the game. Given that the top two scores are within 20 trillion points of one another, I suspect a pair of QA testers were dueling one another for bragging rights. They can have it.

One neat thing about the scores in this game, and particularly about the Leaderboards, is that the scores are shown both in numerals and as a bar graph with the exponents showing in tick marks across the top of the screen. Since only 10 scores are shown at once, you can zoom in on the scores and stretch the exponents from one screen to the next to exaggerate the difference in size of the bars. On one screen you might see 10^10 to 10^14 across the top but if you zoom in several times you'll see 10^13.1 to 10^13.6 or something similar. It's a nice touch especially for those of us geeky enough to actually find novelty in large numbers.

I can't say I'll definitely play Unlimited mode much more, but Timed mode, Musik mode, and Revenge mode are still there calling out to me. Not to mention multiplayer which could be a lot of fun. Ultimately, I can't really recommend this game to everyone. It's worth downloading the demo for, if for no other reason than to see just how crazy the chain reactions can get.

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