| Home |

| Back |

Space Invaders
Reviewed by Chad Polenz

There's an appeal to vintage games that can be summed up in six words: "Easy to learn, difficult to master." Space Invaders for the Atari 2600 is the epitome of this maxim. Why it even bothers to come with an instruction booklet is beyond me because it's so simple and basic. The problem is the game is addictive despite its ire-inducing capability. You'll always feel you have something to prove, that you can go further and that if you play it enough it'll truly feel like fun.

The title is fairly self-explanatory, but here goes: aliens are invading Earth, and it's your job to keep them from landing. If they do it's game over. Unless, of course, you die three times, in which case it's still game over.

You control a laser cannon which glides back and forth along the surface of the Earth. Above you are three shields which provide a minimum amount of protection from the laser bombs being dropped on you by the six rows of six columns of aliens out to get you.

Apparently these extra terrestrials came straight from their home planet's equivalent of band camp because they all march in perfect sequence and unison. As they get closer to the Earth and as their numbers decrease, their cadence increases exponentially. If even one solitary alien should impregnate your defenses it's game over.

This game has one of the simplest premises I've ever seen. All you do is move your cannon back and forth while shooting at the aliens and dodging their counter-attack. The best strategy is to take out the lower echelon aliens as quickly as possible, especially as you advance in stages since they present the most immediate threat to you. As you clear the bottom half of the alien army your best bet it to take out columns on the edges rather than attack by row. Since they all move together and must go all the way to the left and right, thus, the fewer the outside columns the further they have to travel and the more time it buys you.

It's actually quite easy to avoid their laser bombs but trying to land your own ordnance on target isn't. If you're off by just the slightest margin it's very likely your shot will ascend all the way to the top of the screen. There is always the possibility a higher row alien will collide with it as it marches over, or maybe you'll hit the mother ship which slithers across the top every once in a while, but there's no guarantee.

Naturally, Space Invaders is a game of points, although they're very arbitrary here since you cannot earn a 1-Up no matter how high you score. Also, the counter only goes up to 9999, which is a reachable number, so what's the point?

The cartridge has a nice feature of 112 different variations of the game, although Game #1 most accurately emulates arcade play and is probably the most fun mode (aside from two player simultaneous attack).

What makes Space Invaders more annoying than truly challenging is its slow gameplay. Everything crawls at a snail's pace: your cannon, your shots, even the aliens themselves. There are many times in which you'll actually have to wait for the aliens to be in range of your shot and time is of the essence in this game.

Once you whittle their numbers down they start to move faster which in turn makes it all the more crucial your shots are accurate. This wouldn't be such a problem if the controls weren't so stiff. There have actually been times where I've pushed the button and nothing happened. Firing blanks like this is frustrating beyond belief and most likely it can be chalked up to the game's "one shot at a time" rule.

In order to play the game perfectly, you'd have to keep your eyes on the position of your cannon, the trajectory of your projectile, the position of the aliens and your laser shot once in motion.

It's a vicious cycle: you can't watch your shot once it misses because you need to keep and eye on the aliens to know when to dodge their attack. Of course, your natural instinct is to attempt to fire again as soon as you realize you've missed, and so you mash the button only to take another shot that wasn't aimed well. If the cannon and/or the laser shots moved faster it wouldn't be such a problem, but because this game something of a "beat-the-clock," it's very annoying.

Another problem is the action tends to stutter once in a while. Everything freezes for only a fraction of a second, but is just enough to throw off your aim and the fact you had pushed the button. I notice this tends to occur when there are only a few aliens left who are rapidly descending. It's hard enough to line up a shot when they're moving that fast, but it's made all the more difficult when a shot cannot be taken at all!

Space Invaders is a very simple game and it doesn't require very detailed graphics. It's clear what the aliens are even though they're very simplistic in design. The game could've consisted entirely of blocks and it would still have the same appeal, so the primitive graphics here don't hurt it at all.

Oddly, the cannon has a very phallic shape. Am I the only one that noticed this?

And what's with the lines across the left side of the screen?

There is no music to be heard in this game at all. The sound palette consists of maybe a half dozen tones, all of which are quite grating on the ears. The "tock tock" sound of the aliens' cadence is bothersome, and made all the more worse as it speeds up. It culminates when you're down to just one alien zipping across the screen hurriedly, sounding something like a jackhammer.

Despite all my criticism of Space Invaders I have to admit it's definitely a playable game. It's surprisingly addictive because you constantly feel the need to top yourself. Once you grasp the gameplay and get used to the controls, it can be… fun, sort of. Unfortunately, the fun moments are too few and far between. Really, how much fun can a game be if reaching the fifth stage is a challenge even for experts?