The Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Midway [under license from Taito], 1978)
Memories: Three buttons, three colors (if one includes black), all for 25 cents. And thus began the video game boom that made Taito a major manufacturer, with dozens of other companies – Atari, Bally/Midway, Namco, Nintendo, Sega, you name it – riding the large wave launched by Space Invaders. There was indeed an invasion underway…but it didn’t originate from space. It was launched from Japan and Silicon Valley, and for a while…it did take over the world.
Taito wasn’t dumb. In these early days when there weren’t many programming options, all they had to do was introduce more color to the game, package it in a different cabinet, and wham – it was a new game. Other variations followed, but major changes to the basic game play of Space Invaders wouldn’t arrive until other manufacturers introduced them as new games, such as Midway’s Galaxian and Galaga, Sega’s Moon Cresta, and others.
The smartest thing Atari ever did was to look outside their own stable, licensing their first ever third-party arcade title for a little machine called the Atari 2600. The very faithful Atari version of Space Invaders sold the public on the 2600. And the same basic formula, minus the expensive Space Invaders name (which had, by 1981, taken its place alongside other pop culture reference points like Star Wars on T-shirts and other memorabilia), served well for countless other platforms. The Odyssey2 had Alien Invaders – Plus!, Mattel made Space Armada for its Intellivision, and similar copycats sprung up on everything from the Bally Astrocade to the TI 99/4A to the Emerson Arcadia 2001. A few officially licensed handhelds were also made, as well as countless battery-powered copycats.
Maybe, metaphorically predicted by the inevitable outcome of every Space Invaders game session, Space Invaders really did take over the world.