The aliens have come and Uncle Ben is on their side!
I am one of a few people (okay, okay…many) who have watched the evolution of video games from the beginning. I well remember when Pong first appeared; Video Pinball, PacMan, and that eternal classic — Space Invaders. There has been a trend of late to bring back the old standards, either in the original format (as per the Arcade Classics cartridge for N64) or by slapping on a new coat of paint, as has been done with Space Invaders.
The game has changed a bit, although not greatly. There are still aliens swooping down on you in much the manner that the Redcoats marched at the American colonists (and with similar results). There are still occasional Mother Ships flying by that you can hit for extra points. And you, of course, are still stuck in a tank that can only move left and right along the bottom of the screen.
Given, that’s all there was to the game when it first debuted. But make no mistake, this Space Invaders looks in no other way like the original. The graphics and animation… exist! Actually, not to slight the work that went into this product, they’re reasonably decent; in fact, some of the animated aliens are quite amusing. There’s a sound track that I didn’t hate. There’s even an effort to explain WHY you are shooting things dropping down at you from space.
Also added are special attacks for you and your enemies. In addition, when you shoot the Mother Ships flying by on a normal level, you get goodies: extra shots, shields, etc. And, yes, I did say “normal level.”
The game now has three
kinds of levels. There are the aforementioned normal levels with waves of aliens
coming down at you (although there are often formations, not just lots of columns
of aliens, and the shields you can hide behind are frequently positioned oddly…or
not there at all). There are also bonus levels where you can take a brief rest
by shooting at unarmed Mother Ships for points and extra lives, and each planet
(yes, you are planet hopping through the Solar system) has an alien “Boss” you
have to defeat. Some of these are rather difficult, some are way easier than
they ought to be, and some are darned silly. I swear to you that I was pelted
with long grain rice, killer cotton balls, and blasts of cheesy fusilli (What,
no wine? – Ed.).
Of course, it isn’t perfect. Shots (the enemies and yours) will pass between your bunkers randomly. There are only 96 levels, although Activision claims 100 (you visit 8 planets, each with 10 normal levels, one Mother Ship level, and one boss level. Mercury apparently isn’t important enough to save.). After that, the game ends. That just felt wrong. What happened to the never-ending alien hordes? As a bonus, though, once you’ve finished, you get access to play “Classic” Space Invaders. Wasn’t really worth the work.
I was also a little dubious about the value of a “Save Game” function in this kind of game.
I’ve played lots of games over the years that were basically revisions of
Space Invaders. I think my favorite was “Better Dead Than Alien” on the
Atari ST. Scored high for silliness and graphics. The thing that really surprised
me about this N64 version of Space Invaders is not the deficiencies,
which were minor, but that it’s not really anything new. I generally expect
that a new version will actually introduce something interesting. This incarnation
of Space Invaders just seems to be relying on its name. It hasn’t brought
anything new to the table. Still, it’s always fun saving the planet.