A title that has been synonymous with gaming since the beginning. The game behind what could be the most recognizable enemies of all time. Truly, a legend. In a different universe, Space Invaders Forever might carry the sort of cultural clout that would push this release to new heights. Unfortunately, a loose compilation of titles fails to make a worthwhile splash.
With this latest release for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, we’re given a package deal of titles. The first, Space Invaders Extreme, is a remastered version of 2008’s Nintendo DS release. Boasting updated graphics and sounds, this could be seen as the main course of Forever. Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE is a lengthy title for a new experience, one designed for same-screen multiplayer. Closing up the collection is a port of the 2017 mobile title, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders. Oddly enough, this combination of both series is arguably the best part of this new offering.
Space Invaders, as a series, has landed pretty much everywhere. The initial iconic status bestowed upon the property during the golden age of gaming solidified its place both in gaming and societal culture at large. This of course means that Taito has had to put in the legwork over the past 40 years to ensure continued growth for the franchise.
While there have been moments of repeated success, and obvious missteps (the less we talk about 2002’s Space Raiders, the better), it’s all culminated in the expected release on objectively the greatest handheld console of all time. My issue here is that gunning for quantity over quality isn’t as effective as it is in arcades, and this might not be the best offering of titles that we could have gotten.
STORY – ALL YOUR BASE
Here’s the thing about early arcade games: they didn’t really have a story. Sure, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong would eventually come along and provide a simple narrative, but Space Invaders didn’t have that, because it didn’t need it. There are invaders and they are from space. Nice and concise.
That’s a part of the franchise that has largely carried through to today. Overall, a story didn’t really appear in an Invaders game until 1985’s Return of the Invaders, and even then, it was limited to names for the different alien ships. Here in Forever, that lack of a plot mostly carries on. Extreme and Gigamax don’t have storylines, but the third offering, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders, is surprisingly coherent.
Rather, as coherent as a mobile puzzle game could be. This isn’t on the level of Monument Valley or other mobile masterpieces, but it is at least the bones of a narrative. In this combination of Arkanoid controls with Space Invaders enemies, you are tasked with fending off the alien forces as you move through 150 levels and enlist the help of classic Taito characters.
Again, this is a bare-bones amount of storytelling, as the title was originally released for Android and iOS in 2017. The gameplay mechanics are a big step from the other two compilation offerings, and we’ll get into that in a moment. Bottom line, there’s limited to no story because it is a Space Invaders game, and that is okay.
GAMEPLAY – TRIPLE TROUBLE
Three different games would normally mean three different play styles, but Extreme and Gigamax are the classic experiences you’d expect if you’ve ever played the series before. There are obviously some big differences that separate them into two modes, so let’s talk about them one at a time.
Extreme is a straight-forward shoot-em-up featuring large boss battles and fast-paced mini-matches. Remastered from the initial 2008 Nintendo DS release, players on Switch can expect dazzling graphics and intense beats underscoring the action. In this instance, the music actually ties into the gameplay to give us a more intense experience.
But this isn’t an audio-based title like Thumper or Cadence of Hyrule. You’re not suddenly playing a rhythm shooter, it’s still the classic arcade game you’re used to. It just sounds like it’s been scored by an EDM artist. Not that there’s much to notice anyway, as the visuals are so distracting it’s hard to focus on anything else. On top of every enemy being extremely bright and colorful, every bullet fire and strike sends out a visible shockwave. Combine that with the shots that the invaders are firing back at you, and what you finally get is a mess of pixels and effects that can get overwhelming.
Moving from each level is a branching system, and advancement is based on your own skills. Enemies drop a variety of powerups, including lasers, multi-bursts, and bombs, which all help you mow down even more alien ships. There’s also a number of ways you can defeat the enemies to access bonus rounds. The whole point of an arcade title is to rack up as many points as possible, so getting into the bonus rounds is key. But there’s also no explanation of how to be most effective in your strategies.
I couldn’t easily discern what the game wanted me to do when it said COLUMN or SAME SHAPE. Eventually, I figured out through trial and error that it had to do with the order in which I blew up enemies, but that’s a whole level of the process that was left out of my first few play sessions. What wasn’t hard to figure out though, were the huge boss fights.
Extreme does a great job in taking the classic series formula and spinning up the scale for boss fights. Each one is a classic sprite made out of breakable blocks, with weak points denoted by flashing colors. Honestly, if each level was made up of boss fights, I’d be so happy. It’s a spin what I’ve come to expect from this comfort food of a game series, and I really enjoyed it.
Gigamax is a first for the series, bringing some four-player couch co-op to your screen. Do not try to take on this mode on your own. It’s basically impossible to move fast enough and defeat the massive levels without some help, and there isn’t an option for CPU partners. It’s the sort of game that is only as fun as your friends, and unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything for me. It was really neat to see a Space Invaders game that was that massive, but beyond the spectacle, it’s not a part of the package that I found myself returning to.
The biggest departure of the compilation, and my personal favorite part, is Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders. As noted before, it was originally released in 2017 as a mobile title, and it shows. For starters, you have to turn your Switch sideways and use your finger on the touch screen. There are no controller options. There was zero optimization done to port the game over to the Switch to make for a natural experience.
Despite the poor hardware adaptation, this title turned out to be the best of the bunch. Players pilot the Arkanoid, the rectangle-shaped paddle that is used to bounce back enemy shots, slowly moving their way through 150 levels of invaders. There’s a number of cameos from Taito characters, such as Bub and Bob from Bubble Bobble. Each of these character appearances takes the form of a powerup bonus that can be built up and executed for additional power or flair.
One of the biggest hurdles in mobile gaming is the advertisement hurdles that players have to jump through. Either watch an ad for a different poorly made game in between each level or shell out real-world cash for the privilege of making them disappear. Well, this time, you’ve already paid for the game, so you’re able to work your way through the levels as you wish.
Being the standout in a modest compilation isn’t exactly a badge of honor, though. I have to believe that Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders would do better if it was available on its own for a smaller price. It’s definitely a great pick for fans of either series and now is a great time to play a title that you might have missed.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – PLANETARY PRESENTATION
While it might not seem like it based on what I’ve said so far, the collection is really nice looking. Graphically, it looks like how it felt to play in arcades in the 1980s. Everything is big and explosive, neon and chrome. I really wish that Gigamax had a single-player option, as the blown-up size makes for even more impressive color schemes.
It’s also frustrating to try and hold my Switch Lite sideways to play Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders because it’s just slightly too big to sit in one hand. I understand that it would be hard to accurately display the title in the standard orientation, and that’s not something I have an answer for. It’s just a point of friction that I experienced.
When all is said and done, the music is generic arcade beats. No shade to the sound team, but there weren’t any stunning renditions that rocked my soul. It was background music, nothing more, nothing less. If anything, I had to turn the sound down to avoid being overstimulated by the combination of music and graphics.
Space Invaders Forever was reviewed for Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by PRHound.