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Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe 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 See the videoand 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. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: In one of the most seminal variations on the Space Invaders format, Galaxian was among the first clones to introduce attacking formations that would break off from the usual rows and columns of See the videoBuy this gameinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1979)

Memories: Galaxian may not be as well remembered as the much more strategically challenging Galaga, but it ultimately added a vital new twist to the Space Invaders-inspired genre, a format which was badly in danger of becoming stale. Galaxian was also the first arcade video game to use a color display instead of a monochrome monitor with translucent colored overlays. Continue reading

Astro Invader

Astro InvaderThe Game: Those pesky invaders from space are back, and this time they’ve devised a handy delivery system that drops entire columns of kamikaze invaders and motherships through a series of airborne chutes from an orbiting Stern command ship. Players can try to intercept invaders as they plummet toward Earth, but as their impact sends a cloud of debris spreading outward which can also destroy the player’s cannon, avoidance is a perfectly acceptable (if not exactly high-scoring) survival strategy. (Stern [under license from Union Denshi Kogyo Company], 1980)

Memories: As with numerous other big names in the industry at the end of the 1970s and the dawn of 1980, pinball maker Stern‘s angle of entry into the burgeoning video game business was a remix of Taito‘s Space Invaders. Yes, even the company who brought us Berzerk and Frenzy – as well as numerous licensed imports from Konami, among others – rode Taito’s coattails into the video game business. Continue reading

Balloon Bomber

Balloon BomberThe Game: Why worry about space invaders when there are more pressing earthly threats? Players guide a mobile cannon at the bottom of the screen, trying to take out a constant barrage of balloon bombers dropping live bombs. A direct hit to the cannon costs the player a “life,” but if the player allows a bomb to hit bottom, the results can be almost as dangerous: bombs crater the surface that the player’s cannon moves across, and allowing those pits to collect on the surface can severely limit the player’s movements, to the point of leaving the cannon a motionless sitting duck for the next round of balloon bombs, or a plane that periodically drops cluster bombs from overhead. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: One of the more obscure exponents of the same basic hardware platform that brought us Space Invaders Part II, Balloon Bomber is an interesting twist in the slide-and-shoot genre that’s based on a real (and very strange) footnote in history. Continue reading

Carnival

CarnivalThe Game: Step right up, put your quarter on the table (well, okay, technically in the slot), and take your best shot. There are plenty of targets to hit, but no big plush bears to win. If you don’t take out the ducks before they reach the bottom row, they don’t cycle back to the top like the other targets – they start flying and can take See the videoserious amounts of ammo off your hands and end the game early! (1980, Sega)

Memories: In the wake of virtual shooting gallery games like Space Invaders, Carnival arrived on the scene to make the shooting gallery metaphor more literal. Well, more or less – killer ammo-grabbing ducks aren’t exactly standard issue at the state fair. (But seeing how much finesse they add to Carnival, they should be!) Continue reading

Centipede

CentipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Apparently, the exterminating business is getting more dangerous. In the course of trying to wipe out some vermin, you find yourself on the defensive – any of them can kill you simply by touching you. Fleas drop from the top of the screen, leaving bothersome mushrooms in their way. Scorpions periodically See the videopoison the mushrooms, making them impossible to destroy. And a pesky spider is always dancing around the screen. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: I was never that hot on Centipede, but this is mainly due to the fact that its trakball controller pretty much ensured that I sucked at this game. But many people just loved it. With the benefit of hindsight, and slightly better hand-eye coordination, I can now see why. Continue reading

Cosmic Guerilla

Cosmic GuerillaThe Game: The invaders are back, and this time they plan on making quick work of Earth’s defenses. Columns of alien invaders descend from space, staying safely outside of the range of the player’s cannon. A few aliens at a time break formation and attempt to reach the player’s floating stockpiles of ordnance and extra ships floating in the center of the screen; if the aliens are able to reach these items, the player will lose a life. The only option is to take out the invaders before they succeed. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: In the beginning, some of the most respectable future names in the video game business got their start cranking out clones of Pong. The ubiquitous success of Space Invaders had a similar effect; some of the earliest arcade efforts from some surprising names (including Nintendo) either remixed Taito‘s quarter-grabbing mega-hit, or copied it outright. Universal, the future makers of Mr. Do! and Ladybug, was not immune to Space Invaders fever either. Continue reading

King & Balloon

King & BalloonBuy this gameThe Game: Manning a fairly agile cannon located on a platform at a castle, your task is simple: protect the King! However, there’s a flotilla of even more agile balloons above you who are there to kidnap his royal highness. As the King is hoisted away by his assailants, he yells “Help!” If you shoot down the offending balloon, the King See the videoshouts “Thank you!” as he floats back to the safety of the castle via an umbrella. The balloons can ram your cannon kamikaze-style and flatten it for a few seconds, but curiously, you have an unlimited supply of cannons. However, if the balloon marauders get three Kings off the screen, your game ends. (Namco, 1980)

Memories: One of the most bizarre and obscure entries in the resumè of Namco (also responsible for classics like Galaga, Xevious, Dig Dug and a little thing we call Pac-Man), King & Balloon comes across as nothing so much as a bizarre attempt to repurpose Galaxian into a cutesy game. The one-shot-on-screen-at-a-time, the attack patterns of the balloons and some of the sound effects hammer the similarities home. Continue reading

Magical Spot

Magical SpotThe Game: The good news: Darwin was right, evolution is a thing. The bad news: this does not work in your favor. You man a laser cannon trying to intercept alien insects making their way toward the bottom of the screen; at the most inconvenient times, the bugs revert to a pupal stage during which they’re either impossible to hit or invulnerable. They then emerge in a newer, faster, deadlier form bent on destroying you. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: Evolution is a pretty interesting idea to try to frame in the context of a game; almost without exception, it’s been used as an excuse for the game to suddenly make either the player’s enemies stronger and faster. The strangely titled Magical Spot – referring, perhaps, to the single-pixel points on the screen upon which enemy bugs can perch and shrink down to un-shootable size – is a prime example. Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaBuy this gameThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Sega/Gremlin [under license from Nichibutsu], 1980)

Memories: Moon Cresta had a very cool idea which was ripped off by a handful of its contemporaries – instead of giving the player a set number of “lives,” players had three rocket stages. Losing even one stage could seriously hamper your life expectancy in the game in later levels, and you could lose a stage to anything from enemy fire to not lining your stages up correctly during docking. This actually made Moon Cresta a very challenging game – but also a very fun one. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The See the videoBuy this gamePhoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: Phoenix is one of my two favorite games to emerge from the shooting game genre which emerged from the success of Taito’s own Space Invaders. Most shooter games involve chance, luck, and precious little skill, and very few of them give you the chance to try to work out any kind of strategy. Two exceptions I can think of are Midway’s Galaga and this game. Continue reading

Radar Scope

Radar ScopeThe Game: Why is it that, when aliens invade the Earth, you’re the only person on call? Doesn’t the front office have a more recent phone list? At any rate, wave after wave of aliens attack, dive-bombing you repeatedly and – providing See the videoyou don’t blast them out of the sky – rejoining their formations to attack anew. These aliens are a particularly nasty breed, as they can fire while diving and retreating. If you can clear the screen of extraterrestrial nasties, the invasion begins again. Are you getting overtime for all this alien-blasting? What are the benefits like? (Nintendo, 1980)

Memories: A pretty obscure entry from Nintendo, this 1980 rip-off of Galaxian adds some cool touches, such as the odd perspective which barely hints at 3-D, and the turning, tumbling alien ships. When one considers that Zaxxon was at least two years away with its primitive (but at the time impressive) isometric graphics, Radar Scope‘s obscurity is not well-deserved. Continue reading

Alien Invaders – Plus!

Alien Invaders - Plus! 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 and a quick trigger finger. If your cannon is See the videodestroyed, its pilot must run for cover; each of the three shields contains an extra cannon. When all three shields are gone, the alien commander – a kind of spaceborne crab – will descend to nearly ground level and hunt the helpless pilot down. Ten rounds of this decide the outcome of the war. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Alien Invaders – Plus! was the first Odyssey 2 game I got hooked on, and my mother just thought it was riotously funny, especially the bit where the giant space squid floats down from the top of the screen to chase your unprotected gunner around when all of your defenses have been depleted. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe 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. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. Continue reading

Astro Blaster

Astro BlasterThe Game: Another day, another alien invasion. But this time it won’t be so easy to fight the aliens off: your ship has a limited supply of power, and See the videoyour guns can overheat if you force them to spend too much time blazing away. You have to be judicious with your firepower, dodge incoming fire, and hold out long enough to dock with your own mothership and refuel between waves. (Gremlin/Sega, 1981)

Memories: While Space Invaders “inspired” a glut of knockoffs since 1978, several games tried to improve upon the slide-and-shoot formula in later years: Namco‘s Galaxian and Nintendo‘s Radar Scope introduced dive-bombing attacks, Moon Cresta by Nichibutsu replaced the standard “three lives” system with a three-stage rocket, and Gremlin/Sega‘s Astro Blaster brought something else to the table to up the stakes: the game was based on the premise that any spaceship would have limited fuel and ammo. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaBuy this gameThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the See the videomothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: Where its predecessor, Galaxian, brought “attack formations” to standard Space Invaders-style shooters, Galaga introduced real strategy, and influenced nearly every shooter that came after it. Continue reading

Gorf

GorfThe Game: The evil Gorfian Empire is attacking, and for only a quarter, you can enlist and defend Earth against the vicious (yet strangely cute) little critter with a robotic voice. In the first stage, Astro Battle, you have a defesive shield which is weakened with each shot the aliens fire at you – and every shot you fire back at them. (Truth be told, it’s a very thinly disguised take on the Space Invaders formula.) Then, in the Laser Attack level, the aliens break out heavier, nastier artillery that you have to dodge…if you can. Stage 3 sees a guest star from an earlier Midway game in the Galaxians stage, which is a sort of scaled-down version of the Galaxian game itself. Stage 4 is the hardest, with the Gorfian menace repeatedly spiraling out of a Space Warp, defying you to get so much as a single good shot fired off at it. Finally, if you survive the fourth stage, the Flagship level awaits. The flagship can fire any number of projectiles in your direction through your shield, and you have to not only dodge incoming fire, but try to get your own shot to hit just the right place on the flagship to destroy it. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: Gorf was a minor hit in its time, though this latest attempt to turn the Galaxian format into a franchise fell through the cracks. It didn’t help that the first stage seen in the attract mode was a Space Invaders clone. Continue reading

Pleiades / Pleiads

Pleiads or PleiadesThe Game: Earth is under attack, but due to defense spending cutbacks (how much planetary defense can you buy for a quarter?), you’re the pilot of the only vessel responding to the emergency. Try to fend off Buy this gameseveral darting waves of alien ships which are attempting to bomb your base. Some of them may briefly land, wreaking even more havoc, and as you may have guessed, all of them will be firing at you. After you’ve secured Earth, you blast off into deep space to take on a wave of larger, more vicious attackers, and then an assault on a heavily armed alien mother ship. Once you’ve vanquished this foe, you’ll be called back to Earth again – it seems the aliens can’t take a hint. Once you’ve maneuvered your way through the landing runway and lined yourself up to fight the next wing of invaders, the battle begins anew. (Centuri [under ilcense from Tehkan], 1981)

Memories: A rather obscure shoot-’em-up, Pleaides (or Pleiads, as the game proclaims on its monitor, at odds with the cabinet artwork) almost looks like a sequel to Phoenix, though Pleiades originated from a different company. It’s a safe bet that the part of the game best remembered by arcade-goers back in the day is the final stage before the game begins again, the runway screen. You can’t shoot anything, you can only avoid it – and let’s face it, it’s pretty embarrassing if you get yourself splattered in a situation where you have no enemies. Continue reading

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