Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: November 30, 1999
Most of my early video gaming memories are based on the many evenings my parents spent with a friend of theirs named Danny and his Atari. It was a small miracle in a plastic case that was my gateway to a digital fantasyland that would later go on to shape my life in countless ways. He had what seemed at the time to be the largest privately owned collection of Atari titles in the western hemisphere, and while my parents and he would sit around and do whatever it was grownups found so interesting, I would glue myself to Danny’s television and lose myself for a few hours. I got hooked on everything from Missile Command to Centipede and Pitfall to The Smurfs, but nothing ever came close to stressing out my prepubescent psyche as much as Space Invaders. I don’t know what it was… It might have been the steady marching sound, slowly increasing in speed as the aliens descended on my innocent little tank. It might have been the endless hordes that continued to assault my precious terra firma no matter how many I blasted out of the sky. Or it might have been the simple fact that my reflexes and hand-eye coordination was constantly unable to pick off that last stampeding alien as he raced toward my inevitable destruction. Whatever it was, I’ve always had something of a weakness for Space Invaders. I can’t stay away from it if it’s within reach, and I can’t play it for too long without breaking out in a cold sweat.
So you can imagine my mixture of joy and dread when I heard Activision was unleashing this galactic menace on us once again. There has been an ongoing trend recently to revitalize old video games, to take the classics of old and redo them with flashy 3D graphics and enhanced gameplay. Some titles have emerged from the other side of this process barely recognizable as being inspired by the originals, such as Battlezone. Other developers have been satisfied to take the original and simply enhance it with better graphics, advanced interfaces and other modern features we take for granted today–but were never imagined back in the golden days. I’m just waiting for someone to give Pac Man a gun. Just wait. It will happen.
The new Space Invaders is part of the latter group as it stays very faithful to the concepts and ideas of the original arcade game while adding enough twists to make it an entirely new experience. For example, you are given a much larger arsenal of weapons in this remake than you were in the arcade, such as the diagonal shot you can see wreaking havoc in the screenshot to the right. Other weapons include a suicide attack that allows you to pilot your tank straight up in the air to crash through a multitude of the buggers, pyramid missiles that destroy a large triangle of the enemy formation, and an acid cloud that will drift across the screen, destroying any invaders with which it comes in contact.
The first things you’ll notice as being different are the aliens themselves. Yes, they still form neat and orderly little rows for you to gun down, but they are much less apathetic toward your existence than the original enemies. While the old invaders simply shifted from left to right, dropping a slow bombardment of pixilated explosives in your general direction, these new aliens are mean. Early on you’ll run into shielded enemies who can take twice as much damage as the others and who drop shielded bombs that are very difficult to destroy. Later on, you will meet up with invaders who drop multiple balls of burning energy upon their demise, try to kamikaze into your ship, or who split into multiple enemies when you shoot them. We’ve come a long way from the simple “slide, shoot, slide, shoot” schematic of old.
The new Space Invaders consists of several episodes made up of 10 stages each; at the end of each one, you’re going to be facing off against a boss. These oversized extraterrestrial monstrosities, such as the Hammer Boss seen at the right, have their own distinct attack patterns, and while the early ones are fairly simple to beat, the later ones, such as the nuke shooting, building throwing alien at the end of the Earth episode, will have you tearing your hair out in frustration. Luckily, each of these bosses follows a set pattern, and strategies can be uncovered that will allow you to get past all of them without an undue amount of screaming.