Is it the aliens’ integrity during war that keeps them from squashing the laser cannon?
PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
DEVELOPER: Taito (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 1985
Billions of dollars in quarters spent. Yen shortages. Single-handedly kick-started the golden era of arcade games. Quadrupled the Atari 2600’s sales when released for the console. Space Invaders is one of the most successful and iconic video games of all time. And until I was forced to play the game for this review, I had never played it before. Ever.
I was born in the mid-80s and started seriously gaming in the late 80s/early 90s, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Space Invaders was never on my radar to play. I saw it around, of course. Arcades, bowling alleys, grungy Greyhound bus stops. I knew what the game entailed: rows of alien creatures are “invading” your laser cannon’s turf, one horizontal movement at a time. Shoot ’em before they land or shoot you, then do it again until you run out of lives. All for the biggest high score ’cause that’s what gamers cared about in those days. Simple, potentially addicting stuff, but by the time I got to the arcades, I was too obsessed with The Simpsons and Street Fighter II to care. Space Invaders may have been great, I reasoned, but these other games are greater because they’re newer. I was young, inexperienced with life, and stubborn in my point-of-view: there was no way I was going to play some silly arcade game from my parents’ time.
Ted Turner would be proud.
It took my desire to play every Sega game on every console to force me to play Space Invaders for the first time. To Sega’s credit, the SG-1000 port is solid. The aliens, shields, and the laser cannon have been rendered in glorious Technicolor (well… SG-1000 color, anyway). The laser cannon glides smoothly across the bottom of the screen. The music, such as it is, remains tense and ominous. And the game is hard. The lasers the aliens shoot travel fast to your laser cannon’s brain. I had to train myself to move the cannon every time I saw a laser fall from the aliens’ centers, regardless of if the laser was close to me or not. Also, when that last alien came high-tailing it down in my direction, it took all my self-control not to throw the controller at the screen. Buggers move fast.
I’m not ashamed to say I only reached the second level. I’m sure I could get better with time and practice, but I have no desire. Space Invaders, as well-made as it is, doesn’t feel like my game. I didn’t grow up with it. I have absolutely no memories of it. I’m coming into the game after its initial release, as an almost-thirty-year-old with about twenty five years of gaming behind me. This is not the mindset in which one loves Space Invaders. I respect Space Invaders for breaking new ground and inspiring legions of people to get into gaming as a hobby or a career, but the game was for a different generation, a different place and time.
Prince makes a cameo in his custom ship. He’s worth a lot of bonus points.
I imagine being in a dark arcade as a child in 1980. Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd are playing full-blast on the overhead speakers. Teenagers are smoking and playing games and looking cool. Crowds are gathered around various machines, including Space Invaders. I watch as someone dominates wave after wave of aliens and I think, Yes, I want to do this too. I want to be as good as this person. So I try and I fail because I’ve never played the game before, but I want to get better because Space Invaders is what’s happening. This is the type of environment I would have needed to be in to appreciate Space Invaders as an adult. The scene, the mood, and the moment in time lend itself to a deeper union with the game. It isn’t Space Invaders‘ fault that I’m a couple decades late to its party, nor is it my fault for not making an effort to get here sooner. I just got caught up, is all.