Where to begin when unearthing such hallowed ground? Well, like many others, I imagine, my story with Space Invaders begins not with the original 1978 arcade game, but with one of the many pretenders to its throne as the Space Invaders mania machine moved from the arcades and into the home in the early eighties. There were, of course, official home console and computer versions, but as far as I know, until the NES arrived a few years later, these were restricted to the Atari machines, with a 2600 version appearing in 1980 – the first ever officially licensed video game – accompanied shortly after by versions for the Atari 400 and 800. A couple of years later there was a 5200 port, as well as what I think was a licensed handheld version by Tiger Electronics, sold under the CGL banner in the UK, though it’s not easy to confirm this! What I do know, though, is that this one had a manufacturing flaw that led to nearly all of the screens breaking sooner or later, so unless you had an Atari, the best way of getting your hands on Space Invaders was probably one of the many, many handheld clones…
I never actually saw the Tiger version in the wild, and certainly didn’t see the fabled tabletop version that was just about released in 1983, but like for those non-Atari early home computers, from 1980 onwards there was plenty of choice that wasn’t officially licensed. My own journey begins with Grandstand’s Invader From Space, with its big blue fluorescent display and multicoloured “Cosmic Zones” that made no secret it was “the popular arcade game, now sized to fit in your hands!” My auntie had it first, but I’d soon get my own (while my brother had another variant, Bandai’s Missile Invader), though I’d later inherit hers when the joystick snapped on mine, and the power adapter socket was beyond being sellotaped into place to make it work anymore. That one still works, and is still really good fun too! We’ve now gone on a massive tangent, so let me just mention some of the other unofficial early eighties handheld gateways into Space Invaders that I can recall from memory… Space Invader by Entex; Cosmic Invader, also known as Galactic Invaders; Galaxy Invader, though its follow-up, Galaxy Invader 1000 and its iconic yellow case was probably better known; Tandy had its own version of Galaxy Invader’s next follow-up, the 10000, called Fire Away; and Ramtex had Alien Invaders, then went even more blatant with plain old Space Invaders! There were more, but now we have some period flavour, let me cross the decades and dive into the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, launched in Europe on 17th August 2021, and just for the purposes of transparency, a review code was kindly provided to me.
The collection first appeared, however, in early 2020 as a slightly different Japan-only release, with more or less games depending on the deluxe-ness of the version you bought. Then, just in time for my Christmas stocking last year, we in the West got a cut-down collection of the three most modern releases, including the 40th anniversary four player Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE, the 30th anniversary remix Space Invaders Extreme, and Arkanoid vs Space Invaders, which we’ll come back to, but annoyed me a bit got making me play exclusively on the Switch’s touchscreen. Anyway, we’re now getting the full works, celebrating this icon of gaming and what must be the very first proper shoot ‘em up, with no less than eleven Taito games spanning all the way from 1978 to 2018:
- Space Invaders (1978, Arcade) – black & white
- Space Invaders (1978, Arcade) – colour
- Space Invaders Part II (1979, Arcade)
- Lunar Rescue (1979, Arcade)
- Space Cyclone (1980, Arcade)
- Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV (1990, Arcade)
- Super Space Invaders ’91 (1990, Arcade)
- Space Invaders DX (1994, Arcade)
- Arkanoid vs Space Invaders (2016) – included as an additional download
- Space Invaders Extreme (2018)
- Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE (2018)
Yes, it’s not totally exhaustive if you look at the series and its offshoots in their entirety, with stuff like Space Invaders Extreme 2, Space Invaders ‘95 and my old mobile favourite Space Invaders Infinity Gene missing, but what you’re getting is a fantastic representation of the series from its beginnings to its modern respins, with a few bonus curios in between. And yes, it’s a $60 or £54.99 title, so looking at that list you’ve already got an inkling if that’s good value to you or not, but we’ll dig into that a bit more later!
Before we dive into each game, where I plan to give only a brief overview and summary of how it is to play today, I’ll quickly take you through the package as a whole on the Nintendo Switch… Firing up the game is going to lead you to an up-down list of all the games in chronological order, so it’s easy to jump into a bit of what you fancy, but it’s also worth noting that it’s mostly easy to jump out again too – as much as I loved Taito’s PlayStation 2 collections, it took forever moving from one game back to the menu! Each game here has a nice animated preview, some historical notes and your leaderboard rankings and best scores. For most of the games, you’re also getting a very comprehensive gameplay manual – for a game so famed for being instantly playable by anyone, I’ve never seen so many instructions for the original Space Invaders! That said, there’s nothing at all for Space Invaders Extreme or Gigamax, which is a bit odd when everything else has something to guide you, needed or not. And there’s online leaderboard support, except again for Gigamax, which is focussed on local four-player. Most games also offer an additional challenge mode, which usually involves scoring high against the clock, and we’ll cover a couple of the more interesting ones of these later.
Regardless of whether you’re playing docked on a TV or in handheld, by default the game screen is presented in its original format, meaning that for the older games, the gameplay area is a box sitting in the middle of the Switch’s widescreen expanse, although it is surrounded by some really cool borders. You can adjust it to fit the screen, which maximises the vertical height without stretching the rest, or going a bit wider with dot-by-dot mode. On a TV it’s not a big deal, but handheld it’s all a bit small and lonely-looking whichever way you choose, but you do have the option to rotate the screen here, and it looks fantastic that way, albeit at the cost of having to either dock the Joy-Cons and balance it sideways, or get one of those Flip-Grip things. I’m not a big one for CRT filters and scan lines, but as well as screen orientation options, you’re also getting what I’d consider to be pretty good options for those too.
There’s not really a great deal in terms of extras, like developer histories, museum pieces, artwork or all that other stuff that’s often included in such collections, but I’ve a feeling that if you’re desperate for more, you’re expected to stump up for one of the three premium editions, care of Strictly Limited Games… The Limited Edition comes individually numbered and includes a pin; the Collector’s Edition gives you an Arcade PCB Box, two soundtrack CDs, an official book, acrylic artcards and more; then the Ultra Collector’s Edition additionally contains a commemorative coin, an invader standee and a Space Invaders Invincible board game. And I’d be more than happy to review the latter too if anyone wants to send me one, but otherwise, let’s take a quick look at the games!
Space Invaders Original Version. The Beatles of video games! I’ve always thought that The Beatles are overrated, but I still love this granddaddy of shooters! This is the original black and white, 4-digit score version of the arcade game from 1978 that would become a cultural and social phenomenon with its simple premise of moving left and right to shoot lasers at invading aliens moving backwards and forwards and down the screen while avoiding their fire, aided by four quickly diminishing shields. Just in case you didn’t know! I have to say that hearing this version in action is far more nostalgic to me than actually playing it, but playing it is still a real treat – it’s purity and simplicity will always translate to timeless addictiveness! I enjoyed the challenge mode here too, where you need to wipe out a full wave of invaders within 90 seconds, without getting hit, and both of those really up the tension!
Space Invaders Colour Version. This was the definitive version of the original arcade version, released later in 1978 and adding some colour to proceedings, as well as a 5-digit score panel. Otherwise, it’s the same classic gameplay as far as I can tell, though it’s a shame it’s exactly the same challenge mode here too. This is the way to play Space Invaders though, and the colour choices make it look like the first ever ZX Spectrum game on top of all its other plaudits
Space Invaders Part II. It turned out that the first game did alright for Taito, so in 1979 we got the sequel, which introduced new gameplay mechanics like enemy reinforcements, aliens that split in two and rainbow showers. It also had an attract mode, and as another gaming first, an end of level cut scene of sorts, with the final invader flying off in a space ship and sending out an SOS message! Otherwise, the look and feel (and ominous sound effects) are more or less what you know from the colour original, and as such, that probably makes this my favourite game of proper Space Invaders. Cool challenge mode here too, where you have to finish a round while triggering the rainbow effect, which involves destroying all enemies except a single 10-point invader, that will then leave a visible rainbow trail as it starts moving faster.
Lunar Rescue. That’s not Space Invaders! Right, but it’s another arcade shooter from 1979 developed on the same circuit board as Space Invaders. And I love this game! You’re steering your rescue ship down to increasingly small (but higher scoring) landing platforms on the moon, avoiding comets by dodging left and right while using a jet to control speed, but as sparingly as possible to conserve fuel. Once you’re down, you’ll pick up a survivor and have to get them back to your mothership, but now the comets have turned into aliens and you’re in for a more traditional Space Invaders kind of gunfight as you move upwards to carefully dock. This really is a joy to play, offering a quick succession of different risk-reward gameplay mechanics on a bright and detailed game screen, with slightly less ominous sound effects too!
Space Cyclone. We might have entered a new decade, but this 1980 arcade shooter is another re-use of the Space Invaders circuit board. Unfortunately, two years was a lifetime as the golden age of the arcade game got into its stride, meaning uptake for Space Cyclone cabinets was low; in fact, its legendary status now amongst arcade gamers is mostly down to its subsequent rarity! You’re moving your rocket ship left and right to shoot down attacking Bems, the insect cyborgs riding on meteors that act as the main enemy. Eventually they’ll drop down off the meteors, and if you let them land they’ll start building their own rocket with a cyclone cannon, which will launch into space and do you no good if you let them complete it! This all gives it a bit more of a Galaxian or Phoenix kind of feel than Space Invaders, but I reckon this is a real hidden gem, with its primitive synthesised speech shouting stuff like “we’re coming” and “gotcha” throughout the battle, and the shimmering star-field and multicoloured cartoon explosions when you get hit by the lighting-bolt laser from one of the big UFOs! I believe this is also the first ever home port of the game too, so definitely spend some time checking this one out!
Majestic Twelve. Or, to give it its full name, Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV, which was the USA and Japan version of Super Space Invaders ‘91 in Europe, and that’s our next game on the list so we’ll mostly kill two birds with one stone here! We’re now in 1990, and have finally moved on from that original Space Invaders arcade board with the fourth instalment in the series. It plays like a more frenetic take on traditional Space Invaders, as you fight your way through eleven zones, interspersed with a cattle abduction bonus game where you have to protect your cows from formations of classic fifties-style silver flying saucers; that also makes up the challenge mode for this game. Some really cool visuals at play now, with different ships and different backgrounds from around the solar system in each zone – some of which vertically scroll – and a huge variety of robotic and more insect-like enemies in all kinds of formations. The mystery ship at the top of the screen drops power-ups too that look like they’re straight out of Arkanoid. Excellent update!
Super Space Invaders ‘91. Not really much to add here – it’s Majestic Twelve in all respects except there’s no zone selection; you just play through the eleven stages in order. One or the other doesn’t need to be here really.
Space Invaders DX. This one from 1994 is an old favourite from those PS2 collections I mentioned earlier! Loads going on here, with three modes to choose from – Original, Versus and Parody. Choosing Original then offers various screen types, including upright cabinet, black and white, black and white with cellophane and colour. From there it’s all very familiar, with a slightly punchier feel to the game but on different backgrounds. Versus gives you competitive multiplayer, with new dastardly mechanics such as increasing the number of aliens for your opponent. Parody mode it where this comes alive though, featuring improved graphics based on the SNES port and a cast of characters from Taito’s other games replacing the alien and character sprites, including Bubble Bobble, Darius, Arkanoid and The New Zealand Story, which absolutely pops when you first fire up this mode – almost as gorgeous as the original! In reality, as a single player that’s why you’ll be here because the original mode is probably done better elsewhere.
Space Invaders Extreme. This was released in 2008 to mark the 30th anniversary of Space Invaders, and gave the series a proper new lick of paint, with classic gameplay mechanics remixed on an ultra-modern looking and sounding sensory attack. In addition, the version here is actually based on the further enhanced 40th anniversary Steam release, which I don’t recall being available on consoles before, but I’m not sure about that. There’s eleven standard zones to get through, branching in increasingly difficulty, and five extras that really ramp up the challenge. Each zone contains multiple rounds that might involve traditional play or challenge modes, for example hit a certain number of red aliens before the clock runs out. There’s huge depth to scoring too, with all kinds of possibilities for multiplying your score, but there’s nothing like just wiping out an entire wave in a second with a giant laser power-up even if it’s not going to benefit you very much! This might be getting a bit retro in its own right by now, but it’s still a very fine take on the original experience that will appeal to the more modern eye. There’s a regular arcade mode and a free play mode where you can select zones, and my only complaint here is that the user interface here has suddenly changed into its own thing after a common one on all the preceding games, which also makes it harder to quit mid-game if you’re not feeling it. Top stuff otherwise though.
Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE. We end our journey here (bear with me!) in 2018, and the first simultaneous multiplayer version of Space Invaders. This absolute beast includes both classic and new stages, boss battles and deformed enemies, and the biggest wave of Space Invaders you’ve ever seen! Work as a team and you’ll be speed-clearing the screen in no time though, backed by a new soundtrack from the legendary Taito house band, Zuntata, which more than makes up for what might be lacking in new visuals. If you’re a solo player it’s definitely worth a go, even if it will be the most daunting thing you’ve ever seen when you first load it up! You do kind of level up as you go though, which balances things out a bit, but ideally you want at least one more player.
Arkanoid vs Space Invaders. Unfortunately this wasn’t available for download with my review copy as I write this just before release, but I understand that when players officially buy the game in the Nintendo eShop, they can then download it. I do have the benefit of owning it on the Space Invaders Forever collection though, and as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t like it forcing me to play handheld, in portrait, on the touchscreen, but I do know it’s an unsurprisingly enjoyable mash-up of two classic franchises, if you’re not put off by it being a straight-from-mobile port, which I assume is what it still is.
Laying them out one by one seems to be spelling out quite the collection, but now we’ve done it, we need to come back to that point on the price… On one hand, you could argue that you’re getting $60 or £54.99 or your local currency’s worth of Space Invaders, despite a couple of omissions, but on the other, if you can convince yourself it’s good value, do you need that much worth of Space Invaders? If you do, maybe those Strictly Limited Games deluxe options are more up your street than the digital version I’m playing. I don’t know though, even in a 50% off sale I’d still probably be on the fence about this one; it’s a lot of cash for a lot of Space Invaders. Well, hopefully I’ve helped equip you to decide for yourself if you hadn’t dismissed it already, and just for some non-period flavour, that’s also about what you’d spend on a decent Grandstand Invaders From Mars handheld on eBay today!