I've gotten behind on blog posts this new year, so to catch up I sat down with a game I've been putting off for ages, which was the original Space Invaders. I played the game via the collection Taito Legends for Xbox (yet another case where the first game I completed on a system was completely nonintuitive), and from what I've read about it the version is supposedly pretty accurate. The game is extremely well known, but I don't think I'd really appreciated how important to the history of video games Space Invaders really was. The "Impact and legacy" section of the Wikipedia article on the game is pretty essential reading. The game is credited for being "one of the forerunners of modern video gaming", and it "helped expand the video game industry from a novelty to a global industry". Basically in terms of the evolution of video games it stands up there with Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and Grand Theft Auto.
As for the game itself, I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I'd had vague memories of playing it on an Atari system when I was a kid and quickly getting bored, but I found that the game actually holds up pretty well. IGN has a nice write-up, but what strikes me is that the game, although seemingly simple, has a very distinct pacing within each level: the starting formation, where the aliens are high above you; the middle period where they descend, with flying saucers whizzing by every once in a while; and the ending where the last alien zips around the screen, threatening you with an instant game over. By modern standards the progression isn't that smooth. Each subsequent level begins with the aliens' starting positions lower on the screen, and outside of memorizing a foolproof pattern it's somewhat difficult to imagine anyone making it past the third level (although I believe the fifth level or so loops back to the first one). But even though I didn't get through many levels, the game has a nice balance of making you choose to go offensive (shoot at the aliens) or defensive (dodge or hide behind one of the barriers) and forcing you to constantly be on the move or risk the aliens reaching the "Earth", i.e. the bottom of the screen.
Anyway, the Taito Legends collection also had Space Invaders Part II, released just a year after the first version. By today's standards the game does feel like a remake of the original rather than a true sequel. Part II adds color and two small additions to the gameplay (saucers can drop aliens onto the board and starting with level three or so some aliens will split into two when they're hit). The core gameplay is exactly the same, though, and equally enjoyable, so even though I played it some it definitely didn't feel worth writing a separate post about it.
All in all this was a nice start to a new year: I'm glad I finally made myself sit down and give this slice of video game history a spin. For me Galaga is still the classic arcade shoot 'em up, but I'm looking forward to revisiting the series when I check out its much-acclaimed follow-up Space Invaders Extreme, released on DS.
Attack these invading Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II links:
- Guide to getting high scores (goes with the video I linked to above)
- Entry at strategywiki.org, which includes the always entertaining home version comparisons.
- If that's not enough, this video has more than 45 minutes of footage from the various home versions
- Details on the arcade cabinet specs, including manuals for the arcade operators at arcade-museum.com