Alien Comfort Food: Space Invaders Forever Review

It’s safe to say as we ease off our boosters and confirm our entry (Yes, I’m jumping right for the space analogies) into the ninth generation of home video game consoles that this hobby of ours has become complicated. The games themselves are complicated. The culture surrounding this franchise or that company is complicated. Even something as simple as attaining a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X is nearly impossible.

Personally, I find myself burnt out of the whole idea of video games on occasion. It sucks to say, but these occurences are becoming more frequent as of late. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is drop $70 on the latest AAA cinematic third-person action multiplayer looter-shooter starring Hollywood actors with skill-trees and overall levels with individual weapon levels and perk levels and endless, meticulous design tricks that keep me (ideally) addicted forever. It feels like opening a giant to-do list that won’t give me my money’s worth unless I dedicate my life to it.

On those occasions, I find it therapeutic to look to the classics: the games that just drop you in with a button or two and say “go.” Luckily, Taito’s recently released Space Invaders Forever was there to allow me a brief “return to tradition” as the kids say. Forgive the sentimentality, but I actually feel a little honored to be able to review a collection with the DNA of one of the earliest games to ever make a name for itself. Space Invaders played an important role in legitimizing video games as more than a fad. Without Space Invaders, there’s no Galaga, dare I say we’d be missing parts of genre-benders like Nier: Automata and No More Heroes, and there would certainly be no Touhou. Imagine a world without Touhou. You just felt a chill run down your spine, didn’t you?

Space Invaders Forever is a compilation of three different Space Invaders titles, the first of which being Space Invaders Extreme, which adds modernized graphics and some light twists to the formula of the original Space Invaders. If you’re familiar with other remixes like Pac-Man Championship Edition or Tetris Effect, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting here. While your trusty destructible barriers are gone for some reason, there are new powerups, boss fights, bonus rounds and alternate routes to incentivise repeat sessions alongside the challenge to go for a better high score. The game is colorful and flashy, and the electronic/trance-ish soundtrack reacts to player actions alongside the encouraging shouts of the announcer, which ends up being a pretty engaging experience. I had a blast from the very first level, and I unlocked maybe 6-7 PlayStation trophies, which has to be some kind of record. Somebody should check and see if that’s a record.

That being said, in later levels I did have to turn off the movie that plays in the background because there was just too much happening on screen at the same time for me to focus, and since this was originally a PSP/DS game, the visuals don’t complement the flashiness quite as well as newer games like Tetris Effect. It isn’t bad, per se, but for a game that grows in intensity like Extreme you always need to be able to see. I also expected there to be some sort of simultaneous online multiplayer option here but you’ll have to settle for leaderboards, which is a bit of a letdown especially after I read that past versions of Extreme actually had this feature. Overall though, I think Extreme truly scratches that Space Invaders itch and will be where the majority of players spend their time in the collection.

Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE is the second title in the Forever collection, and is closest in appearance to the original Invaders from the late 70’s. Unfortunately, it’s also going to be the weakest entry, unless you have three friends available for couch co-op. Apparently, Gigamax was intended only to be played at special events, but the cool thing about it is that there was a version capable of allowing up to 20 players to shoot aliens at once. Gigamax 4 SE is a “special edition” (SE!) of that game that has been adjusted for home consoles. Full disclosure, I did what I could, but there’s no difficulty scaling for single-player so I wasn’t able to get far. It was one man against the entire invader armada. Much of the gameplay depends on there being multiple defenders to tag-team for special moves, but all I could do was fire my pathetic, single, friendless bullet until I was overwhelmed.

On the bright side, Gigamax’s graphics, while less chaotic than Extreme’s, are still pretty when you’re faced with all the colorful hordes and self-imposed retro scanlines. The soundtrack for this game stood out the most to me as well; apparently the music was done by Taito’s house band named ZUNTATA. The music really picks up during the boss fight against a giant UFO and I just really wished I could progress further in case there were more bangers I was missing out on. Seeing as I was unable to play Gigamax as intended, I don’t think it’s fair to really judge it in this review. Grab a few broskis and some black cherry White Claws and see how it goes for you, though. White Boy Summer, baby.

The third and final inclusion in the Forever collection is Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders, an interesting crossover with another Taito property: the “block-breaker” game Arkanoid. If you’re unfamiliar, Arkanoid is essentially like vertical Pong, where you move a paddle back and forth trying to bounce a ball against as many bricks as possible. This gameplay mechanic is combined with attacking Space Invaders aliens hiding behind the bricks, and now you’re probably getting the idea.

Originally A vs. SI was a mobile game and it shows, for better or worse. The majority of the screen during gameplay is covered except for a phone-shaped window in the middle. The concept itself is fun, and even makes use of the PS4’s touch pad in lieu of a touchscreen, but playing hundreds of levels you can beat in under a minute just feels hollow and tedious. Ironically, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is where you’ll get the largest sense of progression in the Forever collection, though. You’ll be able to unlock partners from other Taito IPs to assist you with special abilities, there’s a very light story being told as you complete each world, and you’ll be trying to collect as much money as possible to buy powerups and new partners as they become available. 

There’s a lot of content here, considering, but burning through the short levels loses its appeal rather quickly. I feel like there was potential here to maybe turn each world into its own individual level and adjust the aspect-ratio so it feels more like a console game, as well as allow joystick controls for those who don’t enjoy touch-based movement, but Taito opting for a mostly unedited port of a mobile game onto console feels lazy to me. I know a lot of these retro game collections are meant to be low-cost cash grabs, but a little effort would go a long way. If you’re going to adjust Gigamax, why not adjust this game as well? Mini-rant aside, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders does work as intended, and isn’t a bad change of pace if Extreme is starting to kick your ass. The levels, while short, do get more challenging and the boss fights are surprisingly creative. You’ll need to strategize and make use of your partners to succeed. There’s a good game here; it’s just held back by some quality-of-life issues that come along with porting something meant to be played on an Uber ride onto your widescreen 4K television (or 1080p television if you’re still poor like me.)

After reading back this review so far, I know much of it has been nitpicking and a lot of personal gripes, but that’s because Space Invaders has already proven itself. We know Space Invaders is fun, and variations like the ones we get to sample in the Forever collection have kept the franchise alive for 43 years. It was even featured in the Oscar-worthy Adam Sandler flick, Pixels! For anyone curious and looking to experience the invasion for the first time, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start, but at an asking price of $30 I might advise you to wait for a sale. $20 or less would be the sweet spot, in my opinion. Longtime fans of the series who have already experienced the games in the Forever collection might not have much of a reason to buy this other than the convenience factor of having these specific Space Invaders games on PS4/Switch. Or, just maybe, $30 for a quick and easy nostalgia trip isn’t so bad when your alternative is a $70 AAA to-do list. Anyways, I’m done here. Beam me up, Johnny, or whatever. See you, space cowboys.

Space Invaders Forever

$29.99
7

7.0/10

Pros

  • Good variety of takes on classic Space Invaders gameplay
  • Solid visuals, sound design and music throughout
  • Decent amount of content in Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders

Cons

  • $30 feels a tad overpriced for what’s offered
  • Online multiplayer was removed from Extreme and needed in Gigamax 4 SE
  • Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders needs more help translating from mobile to home console

Josh Ivey

Josh Ivey is a writer from Tennessee who used to dabble in video game satire and has now become what he once ridiculed. He also wrote a novel called STONEFLOWER MENTAL GYPSY. His sophomore slump will be released in 2021, assuming society still exists.

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