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Nintendo DS Review

What is it?
Space Invaders is one of those games that just cannot die. It's an icon, the invaders second only to PacMan in their instant recognizability to oldschool and retro gamers. It was the first shmup the world ever saw, and back in the day, the story goes, a machine on test in a bar went haywire and, when checked, was discovered to be so full of quarters it stopped working. I've heard first-hand how a Japanese arcade owner who didn't order any Space Invaders cabs because his friend and distributor didn't or couldn't get them, suffered greatly when his competition had the machines and he did not. It was then a recognizable game and - at least at the time - popular and lucrative. It is in fact the game Taito's most known for to this day.

New console: ready, steady, bring out the old guns...
Every time there's a new console Namco brings out PacMan, and Taito brings out Space Invaders. Nearly every system since the Atari 2600 has had Space Invaders released for it - and in the case of machines that couldn't get the license, clones were released instead. The DS is no exception, and Space Invaders was recently released in Japan, without any fanfare.

Taito can't leave well enough alone, and probably for good reason. The original Space Invaders didn't age well. It's incredibly slow and takes an eternity (or two) to get going. You can only fire one shot at a time, and there's a delay before the next shot can be fired, so even at maximum speed it's pretty slow. The invaders crawl across the screen at a snail's pace and while I've been told they eventually speed up it takes ten minutes to get to the third round. By then it's still not fast and I've lost interest.

So Taito reinvents Space Invaders. This DS release isn't the first time they've tried. By my count there's at least six arcade releases, and several consoles got unique variants, so let's say Taito's released ten sequels to the original game. They haven't strayed far from the formula - they can't, for if they change it too far the game that spawned all shmups would resemble its successors more than itself. So Taito sticks to the plan and gives us this New Age Space Invaders. Basically it's the same old thing with a few new upgrades. At the beginning of each round your power gauge goes up and this powers the powerups, with power. Powerfully. Or not, as you'll see.

You don't get these new powerups for free, oh no. Taito realized that no one wants to play the original Space Invaders anymore, but since they went through the trouble of including it they had to find a way to make you play. So every point earned in the original mode counts towards a total which unlocks the New Age weapons at seemingly random intervals. Suffer in the original mode to unlock weapons to beat the incredibly short New Age game. Hey Taito, this sucks.

You can speed up your little ship, which takes very little power. For a little more power you can activate a laser shot which can clear an entire vertical line of invaders with one shot, a barrier for protection, or even rapid fire. Sucking up maximum power is the support option, which adds a pair of wingmen to your ship, allowing a combined assault of three shots at a time. Only one shot can be fired from each gun at a time, so it's still kind of slow. Why not activate rapid fire and support at the same time! Yeah, that's the... what, it's over? Shut up, the game says to you, you had your fun, and I've only got twenty levels to offer so you can't have too much fun.

That's right, 20 levels.
There are only twenty stages. I beat it in an hour without using a single powerup, and I wasn't really having a hard time of it. A couple of levels are tricky, as each one offers something new. Or a harder version of something you've already done, since even with only twenty stages to fill Taito ran out of ideas. In one level the invaders are very tiny and there's a lot more of them, so it takes longer to clear the stage. There's only one of these mini-invader levels, I guess Taito thought if they had added two the game would take more than an hour to beat, and that can't be allowed. Another level has your New Age ship pitted against an inverted oldschool ship, and you try and shoot each other. There are three of these levels, each is over when you score a single hit. Some levels have replicating enemies that split into two when shot, a trick seen in older updates to the game, but in this case the new enemy usually takes the place of an invader already present, so the net effect is to make one enemy take two shots - a trick seen on other stages. One level has shadow invaders that fade in and out, make the stage last longer (joy), and some levels have enemies that dive at you Galaxian-style, and the game's over when they reach the earth, so you dare not miss.

To be clear, most of these New Age levels are fun, mostly because they're shorter than the original game and offer a new, short challenge. WarioWare style, you might say, if WarioWare had twenty stages instead of the billion it offers and made you suffer intentionally.

There are several boss stages, with a very large version of the original invader made of squares, which you have to shoot. So it's kind of like galaxian again, with a formation made of squares instead of cool little invaders in a rectangular block. I bet this took a whole fifty seconds to come up with at Taito HQ.

This, that, etc.
So yeah, Space Invaders, a game I loved on the 2600 so much as a kid I could play a single game for four hours on a good day. The original sucks now, I can face the facts, but I really want Taito to give me a good Space Invaders update, one that isn't too damned short and filled with stupid powerup systems. The level tweakery in Space Invaders DS is a lot of fun, moreso than any other remake I've seen, but c'mon - twenty levels? An hour! It'd be less if I had any powerups when I did it, and that's ridiculous. Bargain price or not, $35 for an hour's play is lame, Taito. There's not even a score in the New Age game, so why should I play it twice?

Bottom line: If you still think the original Space Invaders is aces, this will be fun for you. For the rest of us (and I assume that's most of us) this is a complete waste of money. For shame, Taito. For shame.

Other things you might want to know
The touchscreen can be used to control the ship in the original game, but you do not want to do this. Both games allow you to shoot by tapping the 'shoot!' part of the screen, but it's easier (but a bit crampy for anyone with large hands) to use the A button to shoot. The touchscreen is used to select the powerups in the New Age game.

There are some mini games, though that's stretching the meaning of the term way too far. When starting a game you have to shoot a UFO on the top screen from the bottom. It's tricky, it's over in 3 seconds, and it'll add 300 pts to your accumulating old-game score if you hit it. There are a few others - same idea, but with enemies either coming down from the top and leaving, or coming from one side or the other and then leaving, kind of like a monochrome and boring Galaga bonus stage. Three mini games that take three to ten seconds to complete, and don't even have a fancy new background. Hey Taito, I want my money back.

The New Age game takes place around the world with the appropriate ugly digitized picture as a backdrop and music that's almost but not quite unremarkable in its blandness. Zuntata, Taito's music division responsible for such amazing tunes as Puzzle Bobble and Bubble Bobble, were apparently on vacation for the three days it took to code this travesty.

There's no cow-stealing mini game like in Majestic Twelve/Space Invaders IV/Space Invaders '90/whatever (above).

There's none of the whimsical fun and tomfoolery found in Space Invaders: Attack of the Lunar Loonies (left). In fact, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say there's no fun, whimsy or foolery of the tom sort at all in this DS release. It's really rather dull, in fact.