The Game: 21 years after the first relentless alien invasion of Earth, the Space Invaders are back – and so are you, in a vastly advanced version of the ubiquitous “tank” which was so critical to the defense of Earth in 1978. But the aliens have made some improvements to their hardware too, and they still outnumber you by at least 20 to 1. Handy survival tip: start blasting, and keep blasting. (Activision, 1999)
Memories: Now this retro revival surprised me. Updating Pac-Man and Q*Bert, that I could see. Those games had Saturday morning cartoons, vague plotlines of their own (in fine print on the arcade cabinets), and so they’re easy to update. Space Invaders, on the other hand, had a T-shirt, and a legacy of many wasted after-school hours spent on the Atari 2600. The only plotline one could assign to Space Invaders was that you could fight and fight and fight, but you’d eventually perish in the battle. It was inevitable. There were just too many of them. (And you thought UFO paranoia only blossomed in the age of The X-Files and Art Bell?)
I was surprised and gleefully amused to watch the intro movie to the 1999 update of Space Invaders. Like the aforementioned Pac-Man and Q*Bert remakes, this is a well-crafted game whose designers made sure it referenced and revered the past – while still making it a kick-ass game for the 90’s.
I feared the worst for the basic game play of Space Invaders, worrying that it would be changed so drastically that it would be unrecognizable. I just couldn’t see how anyone would leave the game alone. But for the most part, it is the same game. Several rows of aliens march down toward you inexorably, blasting away at you and your shields. Armed with only one mobile weapons platform at a time, you are confined to the bottom of the screen, and all you can hope to do is pick off the invaders one at a time.
The 1999 Invaders features new twists, such as hard-to-kill level “bosses” (it took me forever to get past the Pluto boss), and power-ups gained by shooting mother ships at the top of the screen or by killing four of the same species of alien in a row. No longer just different sprite animations, the different aliens have their own distinct weapons, defenses and behavior.
It’s really quite challenging – and quite addictive too. But despite the changes, it’s still distinctly, uniquely, Space Invaders. (And old-school gamers can relish the irony that Activision, which was originally founded by four ex-Atari employees to churn out better cartridges for the 2600, now tackles remakes of such big-time Atari staples as Space Invaders and Asteroids?)