It’s time to celebrate another game anniversary, as Taito appears to have taken a page from all of the celebrations surrounding Pac-Man’s 40th, and come up with their own ways to celebrate the game that made the company a force to be reckoned with. Space Invaders did celebrate 40 years back in 2018, but this year they are bringing more SI fun to the table with themed products that you can pick up in Japan.
For us to celebrate, let’s do a post like we did for Pac-Man, and take a stroll down memory lane to highlight the various arcade releases of the game over the years. Starting with the original, which was released on June 16th, 1978:
Space Invaders was the brainchild of Tomohiro Nishikado, who was influenced by some different games such as Breakout, along with a weird dream about school children waiting for Santa Claus being attacked by alien invaders. It was also released at a time when pop culture was dominated with space fever – many kids had grown up watching moon landings, then exciting things like Star Wars and Star Trek threw space imaginations into overdrive.
While the game wasn’t the first “quarter-cruncher” that arcades had seen, it certainly marked a turning point in where video games were headed, thanks to some innovative design choices that really stood out from other games of the era. It is definitely the grandfather of the “shoot ’em up” genre. It’s also a cool cabinet to look at, using a mirror trick to project the game imagery against a moon/sky backdrop.
Contrary to popular myth, the game was not responsible for a yen shortage in Japan (this is something that most arcade history database pages are still perpetrating). However, it’s influence did bring players to the arcade in droves and resulted in a flood of clones. It would also put Taito on the map unlike they’d experienced before, turning them into a development powerhouse that would last through the 1990’s. It also gave a boost to Midway, who licensed the game for manufacture and distribution in North America; and Atari, who licensed the game for their Atari 2600 game console, making for the first killer app/system seller that a game console could have.
One other thing to note as we get into these other titles is that the series has also employed some subtle humor. In the original, it was the invaders fixing an upside-down Y; Space Invaders Part II had amusing cutscenes; Majestic Twelve had you protecting cows from alien mutilations and so on.
Space Invaders Part II/Deluxe – Jump forward a year to 1979 and the game already received a sequel. Clones and bootlegs of the first game had already become the norm across the world markets, so Taito needed to fight back against that, while also capitalizing on the game’s wild popularity.
Known as Deluxe here in the States, the game featured some changes to the gameplay, such as invaders that could split into two, improvements to the saucers, scoring changes, an intermission sequence (possibly the first ever for a video game) and color monitor for the JP version. US versions used B&W with color overlays.
Space Invaders II – This Midway-made oddity was also released in 1979, but was quite different from Part II mentioned above. It was only released in a cocktail cabinet, where two players could battle the Invaders simultaneously – but on opposite ends of the screen. This made clever use of the cocktail format (something that the unreleased Missile Command II would also attempt), but seems like it isn’t the most common game to stumble across. Because it wasn’t developed at Taito, it’s not counted as a “true” sequel:
Space Invaders Pinball – Since Bally/Midway had the SI license, and they were hot on pinball, they came up with an early example of a video game-to-pinball theme. I’m not sure if this was the first to do so; If not, it was certainly among the first. When you see the backglass for the game, you can’t be blamed for mistaking it for an Alien pinball machine…I suppose that probably stood out more than the silhouette monsters on the side of the arcade cabinet.
Just note that this is an early 80’s pin, so it’s not quite as exciting as what you might be accustomed to. At least it incorporated some SI sounds into it – and it used four flippers.
Return of the Invaders – The early ’80s were a busy time for everyone, where developers didn’t always want to keep rehashing the same thing over, so the franchise took a little rest through the height of the Video Game Craze and through the crash. Coming out of that in 1985, Taito contracted UPL to create this “Part 3” sequel to the series, employing the most detailed graphics that it had seen to date.
Thanks to that, the invaders, their patterns, the player tank and levels looked drastically different from what people had known up to that point. It also borrowed some elements from Galaga, such as dive bombing enemies and a challenging stage. Top it all off with a soundtrack, and it was a solid effort. I like how some of the invaders look like Metroids…I have to imagine that they ended up influencing that Nintendo property that would launch a year later:
The Majestic Twelve/Super Space Invaders ’91 – Jump ahead another five years to 1990 and we get this sequel that built upon the ideas of RotI and improved them further. This one had selectable stages, the saucer providing power-ups with various effects, a player-controlled shield around your tank (almost like in Phoenix) and more. This one was a fantastic entry into the series, I’ve seen many call it the best of the bunch.
Posting the flyer for this one, since it’s pure awesome:
Space Invaders DX – In 1994 you had the first “remakes” of classic games coming along, instead of sequels, which Taito kind of did with this one. This would also be one of the first multi-game compilations we’d see for the arcade, with the original and color overlay versions being included, and a new cute “parody” remix of the original. This one was interesting in that it plays just like the original, but all of the characters come from other Taito games like Bubble Bobble & Darius. I don’t believe this one was very common outside of Japan.
Space Invaders ’95: Attack of the Lunar Loonies/Akkanvader – Right around the time of DX, Taito also released this proper sequel in the vein of SI’91. Continuing to tinker with the formula, you could choose from a number of different characters with varied abilities, and you had boss battles. This one was a bit weird though, with some bizarre invader designs.
Space Invaders 25th Silver Anniversary Edition – By 2003, Taito USA had closed up shop, and the industry was in the middle of the 2nd Great Arcade Crash. That didn’t cease all developments however; low hanging fruit like this came along, which offered the original Space Invaders and Taito’s classic Qix. While Namco American would handle this release, they wouldn’t make very many of them, butyou still might stumble across this one out there:
Space Invaders Anniversary – Rarer than that however is the Japanese Anniversary Edition, which did not come with Qix, but an interesting 3D/Voxel version of the game, in addition to the original & it’s color variations. This was also released in 2003. Arcade databases like KLOV and Arcade-History don’t have a specific listing for this one, blending it with the Silver Anniversary above, but System16 does, as it was made for Taito’s G-Net hardware. This compilation was also released for the PS2:
Space Invaders Frenzy – From there, the years would pass by again with no new Space Invaders to grace arcades. One exception I can find in the ’00s is this videmption game, although I’m not sure if this was actually released or not. You also had the original re-released on Taito’s Nesica network in 2012, but that wasn’t exactly new.
For a brand new arcade release, one would have to wait until 2017, when Taito & Raw Thrills joined forces to launch a new videmption piece, Space Invaders Frenzy. Primarily designed as a videmption game, this was a 1-2p gun game where the object is to keep the invader hordes at bay long enough to reach the ticket bonus round, and battle your way to win that jackpot. Bombs, segmented invaders and a giant LED billboard screen all came together to make this one a hit, and you’ll likely find it at various FECs across the fruited plains.
Queue late-night paid advertising salesman voice: But that’s not all! Space Invaders Frenzy also came with a “Ticketless Mode,” which when activated by the operator, changed the game into a proper amusement arcade game. Instead of playing through a frantic round, you played the game in properly thought out waves, each with a theme and changes to the invaders and their patterns. No playing for jackpots here – just points.
Space Invaders Gigamax – Rolled out for the 40th anniversary in 2018, Space Invaders Gigamax wasn’t quite an arcade release, but it certainly was something that could not be played at home. Made to project onto the side of a building, or on huge walls (maybe at an FEC), Gigamax allowed up to 10 players to enjoy some Space Invaders mayhem. Taito has included this in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, so I guess you could project that onto the side of your house with the right kind of projector…
Space Invaders Pinball Jam – At the end of 2018, we reported on a new concept that Taito had begun experimenting with called Space Invaders Pinball Jam. Both Taito and Namco were dabbling with the idea of “battle pinball,” a head-to-head pinball-style concept. While I believe that Pinball Jam did receive a limited release in Japan and other parts of Asia(correct me if I’m wrong on that), I’ve not heard of it reaching Western shores. The concept is simple, blending some very basic pinball rules with air hockey. The whole goal was to get the ball(s) past your opponents flippers, and see whose pinball skills were best.
Space Invaders Counterattack – Influenced by Frenzy above, Taito decided to take a similar concept and with UNIS, they produced this videmption/amusement piece that made a surprise debut at IAAPA 2019 last year. The gameplay is similar to Frenzy’s amusement mode (Counterattack can be played for tickets or points), where you have waves of invaders to fight, but when the invaders reach the bottom and destroy both of your bases/fortresses, then it switches from video to electromechanical game. The entire time that you’re playing, you use a ball cannon that fires real softballs at the screen; at this point, there are two lit-up Invader targets that begin marching towards you. Beat them back to survive and move on to the next stage. While this feature was incomplete at IAAPA, it was working at Amusement Expo – just seemed a little too hard. I’m not 100% sure if this one has been released thanks to the pandemic, but at IAAPA it was extremely difficult to get any play on it, as it was being played non-stop (even before the show floor opened)
I did get a chance to play it at Amusement Expo, although I had forgot that I filmed it until now. Enjoy this footage in glorious 4K…
So there you have it – which of the many Space Invaders releases is your favorite? How would you celebrate Space Invaders Day?
Honorable mention Space Invaders Extreme 1&2
As mentioned at the top of the post, only focusing on the arcade releases, but some of the console editions have been really good!