Review by Retro
"I'm honored that I was born the same year this ruled the world"
Most whom stumble upon this review probably don't even know what an arcade is. No, not those gambling stations full of slot machines, the ones that quickly went out of style in the 80's or early 90's that were chock full of fun video game cabinets. One way the Atari 2600 made a lasting name for itself was by porting many of the best arcade classics to the homes of millions. Hey, maybe that's why arcades began dying off around that time? Just a few of these gems that were made into great home system translations are Missile Command, Asteroids, Defender, Moon Patrol, Frogger, Crystal Castles, and Jr. Pac-Man. One of the absolute best ones was and is definitely Space Invaders!
Space Invaders was one of the first, if not the first space shooter to become popular all over the world. The game's plot was rather out of this world, and so was the game! It's a real simple premise, which is exactly what made it so appealing and playable to not only kids and teens, but even older adults as well, as was the case with many games back then. You control a tank that looks much more like a conifer on the ground and simply move it left and right as you shoot above you to destroy every single one of the aliens that are scrolling overhead. These invaders from space aren't any different from one another except in their appearances. One horizontal row of them look much like lobsters, another breed is clearly ghost-related, and so on. This 6 X 6 grid of unwelcome visitors slowly move left and right and when one of them reaches as far as it can go on one side, the whole group of them will drop down a level and start to make their way slowly to the opposite side. But they will not be moving that slowly the whole time! It takes one shot to kill each foe, and the more of them that you take out, the faster the remaining will become, eventually leading to blinding speeds. Show offs, they know your slow butt can't ever kick it into high gear.
They say aliens are much more technologically advanced than we humans are, eh? I guess that is not always the case. This lot that decided to invade this tiny cartridge is more technologically ugly looking, perhaps, but that's about it. Oh, and their population. No matter how many of them you destroy, they'll never go extinct, they just regenerate. But you, on the other hand, don't even have as many lives as a cat has, and there are two ways you can be killed by them, not counting heart attacks or going into shock. All of the enemies have the ability to drop bombs down at you. Come in contact with any of these just once and you lose a life. Also, if you allow any of them to make landfall, you get to take a much needed rest ..in peace! True to the original, every now and then a spaceship will cruise across the top of the screen, and if your aim is right on target, you'll earn some bonus points. But these ships do not stop to drop new extra terrestrials like they did in the arcade, however.
Your tank is the only defense you have from a certain death, but it also has some defense on its side. Right above you are three shields to guard you from enemy missiles. Each missile, whether from you or a dreaded nemesis, will take out a small piece of the shield upon contact. This is where some strategy can come into play. You can simply ignore the shields altogether and just slide under them to dodge a falling weapon or you could stay cooped up underneath one and shoot through it until your missiles are en route to tearing up alien flesh.
To me, the Atari 2600's port of Space Invaders is much more playable (i.e., easier) than the arcade version, even though there's no high score list to shoot for. Here's a good example for ya. After you complete so many levels, the enemies will be directly above you at the start, so close to you you can smell their breath and no shields will be present. You can slide under each column of enemies and shoot one or two of them (without stopping) without worrying about being fired upon and killed. In the arcade you're kept on the edge of your seat playing peek-a-boo with them because you know they will crap on you without hesitation even before you get warmed up, which can be real frustrating.
Speaking of getting warmed up, if you simply turn this game on and play it a few times, you've only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. What this version of Space Invaders has to offer that all other ports of it don't is replay value that really is out of this world!
There are four main types of variations, each of which spices up the challenge and makes things more interesting. Playing a game in which the shields move left and right in unison makes it more difficult to focus on your mission while avoiding incoming fire. Speaking of the enemy fire, why not take on the challenge of having them fall ten times faster or have them zigzag as they're plummeting toward planet earth? That'll show the critics who say this game is too easy! But wait, there is one more, and it's the best of all: invisible invaders. Hey, maybe they are more technologically advanced than we are after all! In the invisible invaders variations you can't see them at all, except for a split second when you destroy one. And just wait until you have one lonely enemy left and you have to visualize and guess where it is on the screen and then shoot where you think it will be once your projectile reaches that point.
One of my favorite video game memories was when I was around 7 years old and had yet to come into my own mature gaming, hand-eye coordination skills supremacy. Donna, my aunt who was two years my senior, was watching me. She swore there was no way on earth I could clear a level of invisible invaders because she was better than me at video games and she couldn't even do it. I doubted myself even more, I'd never beaten a level of invisible invaders before. Well, until a minute or two later. I remember us simultaneously looking at one another right afterwards with shock and surprise in our eyes and dropped jaws. That may have marked the onset of puberty in my video gaming skills confidence.
Those are just the four main types of compelling variations that you will experience if you really want to dive deep into the trenches of all Space Invaders has to offer. Now, imagine combinations of the four. You can make it where you have moving shields and enemies have zigzagging bombs in the same game. How about invisible enemies with bombs that drop fast as lightning? Or any combination of three or even all four variations at once? The possibilities seem endless, especially when you notice that you can play solo or with another person in a variety of ways. If you're fortunate enough to have someone else around to play video games with, you can play a two-player game in which you alternate turns, play simultaneously as you compete to see who can get the highest score, or play as a team. This is just unbelievable, folks. The two-player co-op variations are particularly challenging and are liable to either spark a lot of frustration between you and your friend if you're both REAL competitive like me, or they may teach you the value and rewards of working as a team.
Imagine playing Space Invaders as a team and having it where you control moving to the right while your partner decides when to move left and both of you can fire. Or (my favorite) where one of you does all the moving the tank around while the other pulls the trigger and fires at will. Boring? I disagree very strongly, but try on alternating firing and control if you think you're good! I said imagine'? Why imagine doing those things? You can do all that and more in this version of Space Invaders that has a total of 112 variations, more than any other Atari 2600 title, I believe. And if that's not enough, you can always flip the difficulty switch and make your tank thrice times wider, making you a much bigger and easier target for defeat.
While Another One Bites The Dust was a huge hit, thousands of Space Invaders fans were having fun making these 2D critters from some far off place no man has gone before bite the bullet, making this the biggest selling video game of the year I was born, 1980. And it's easy to see why.
GRAPHICS - Not some of the best ever seen on the system, but surprisingly effective. There are just the right amount of colors, and the background that consists of nothing but a pitch black tint is fitting. The tanks look like spruce trees, but the aliens look great! There's a better variety of them than there is in the arcade and they're more memorable in both their looks and movements. This comes to a surprise to me even, but I think the Atari 2600 version has better graphics than the arcade original, which is very rare.
SOUND - Stays true to the arcade hit. There are only slight changes, such as the sound of firing a missile. In the arcade, it's a faster sound, and your shots do travel faster in the original, whereas in this port your missiles are slower and the accompanying sound effect is darker and more drawn out. No music has been added, but there are perhaps more sound effects to be heard than in the arcade, which makes the 2600 version more atmospheric in ways, such as the marching sound for each move the aliens make, which speeds up to a drum roll effect as their numbers dwindle.
CONTROL - As with the majority of Atari 2600 titles, this one has excellent, responsive controls, mostly due to their being so simplistic. All you'll ever have to do is move left and right and shoot. They're not sluggish or overly touchy, they're just right, even in the two-player co-op variations.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/03/01, Updated 07/09/07
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