The Game: 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. (Taito, 1997, for Playstation)
Memories: I can hear ’em already. “Okay, you’ve flipped your lid. There’s already a modern-day Space Invaders remake out there, there’s emulation, and then there’s the fact that Space Invaders has been emulated pretty faithfully all the way back to the Atari 2600 version. Why the heck do you need this version for the Playstation?”
Well, here’s a good reason – because Taito has assembled a loving tribute to Space Invaders that everyone should get a chance to play or see in action at least once. This collection features no fewer than three different games: the original Space Invaders in three variations (the cocktail version with B&W graphics and no background artwork, the upright version with B&W graphics over a very well-done replica of that background artwork, and the cocktail version which used overlays – simulated quite well here – to add color), the more colorful Space Invaders Deluxe, and a Vs. Battle version of the original which adds a little bit of head-to-head Tetris competition to the basic game play. It all feels like the real thing, sounds like the real thing, and plays like the real thing. Once you’ve selected your variation of choice, it sits in coin-op attract mode until you use the select button to “pop a quarter into the machine.” You can change the game settings. It’s like Namco Museum, only it plays nothing but Space Invaders.
MAME? Sorry, folks. Better than MAME. I was sold when I saw that the upright-with-background-art version nailed just the right degree of graphic transparency that you got from the half-silvered mirror used to project the game over the artwork. It’s perfect enough to melt the heart of a crusty old arcade veteran like myself. The menu is even a hoot, with a blizzard-like cascade of invaders descending through the color variations of each game as the game waits for you to pick your poison. (For those who have this game and can’t quite fathom the instructions, L1 + R1 + Select + Start gets you back to the main menu no matter where you are.)
The real innovation here, however, is the Vs. Battle game, in which two players (or one player vs. the computer) battle their own respective fleets of invaders. Hitting certain colored invaders will dump a whole new row of the little buggers into your opponent’s playing field (a la head-to-head Tetris on the Game Boy), while hitting the UFOs will switch fleets – be careful what you send your opponent’s way, because you may soon be fighting it yourself. The Vs. Battle game has all the ingredients of a can’t-put-the-joystick-down party game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of the Activision remake that was released a couple of years after this collection appeared in Japan, but for those times when I want the real Space Invaders, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. I’ve been told that this exact same title was released for the SNES in the U.S., but no U.S. release was seen for the Playstation.