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Space Invaders (Nintendo 64) artwork

Space Invaders (Nintendo 64) review


"No shooter formula is more archaic. No shooter formula holds such nostalgia either. Space Invaders has been a simple concept since its first appearance in the arcades of the late 1970s, a classic dance with death from above. The aliens descend with uniformity and precision, swaying to surface level as a trained squadron with no intention to deviate from the plan. It will work. They believe. Down below dissonance breaks their harmonious, synchronized descent; one lone Earth pilot desperately fires blasts skywards from his roving craft, shifting left and right with the pack, dodging sporadic projectiles and wreaking havoc on their ranks. Will it be enough? "



Left to right.

Down they come.

Right to left.

Down they come.

No shooter formula is more archaic. No shooter formula holds such nostalgia either. Space Invaders has been a simple concept since its first appearance in the arcades of the late 1970s, a classic dance with death from above. The aliens descend with uniformity and precision, swaying to surface level as a trained squadron with no intention to deviate from the plan. It will work. They believe. Down below dissonance breaks their harmonious, synchronized descent; one lone Earth pilot desperately fires blasts skywards from his roving craft, shifting left and right with the pack, dodging sporadic projectiles and wreaking havoc on their ranks. Will it be enough?

Left to right.

Down they come.

Right to left.

Down they come.

It won't be enough. There is inevitability in Space Invaders; stop for a second and think. You will lose. There are too many. They come too quickly. The odds are stacked. Just like one more piece is sure to succeed another in Tetris, one more pack will surely follow the current lot in Space Invaders. There is no end to the siege, no reason for hope, but no other choice than to fight their forces. Inaction leads to death. Action leads to death. Which is the most satisfying way to go out?

Though largely true to the source material, the Nintendo 64 adaptation changes the formula just a bit. You can win. Starting from Pluto (these were the days before the rocky entity was demoted to dwarf status), far off in the distance, you can see an end to the struggle. Yes, there will be messy exchanges and much toil, but this is a finite adventure. Clear all the planets of this menace and the battle can be won!

What results though is tedium, and it's tedium that is harder to endure than before. Since the early days enduring the tedium was part of the test, a mind game one played with one's self to keep concentration and focus even as the fighting grew weary and patience stretched thin. This was the alien's plan to break you all along -- don't let them! Now the tedium is much in the style of 1942, fighting across the same backdrops against the same forces until there are no more of the same backdrops to fight against and same forces to fight. It grows old quickly, especially when each planet has eight descending swarms to fight. Style and substance need to be added to the equation.

Left to right.

Down they come.

Style was not. When you begin on the rocky, barren, boring surface of Pluto, you're determined to press on just to see what things may come. It makes sense this planet would be dull and lifeless; it is! Unleashing your creative tour-de-force on Pluto is premature. Wait for the wonders that come: Jupiter's swirling orange clouds and raging storms, Mercury's scorched surface and intense glare, Uranus's thick gaseous atmosphere... this is going to be great! But then you proceed to Neptune, and things look much the same. Uranus is just another rocky crater teeming with more alien parasites. Not only is it unimaginative, it's incorrectly unimaginative; the real solar system holds much more beauty and enchantment, and the failure to realize this creates unfulfilled expectations.

Right to left.

Down they come.

Monotony is broken with the introduction of alien beings of different types. Yes, some are mere palette swaps and attack in the same manner, but others throw new tricks into the equation. One such being, the sidewinder, rains its projectiles at an obtuse angle, the red triangles' unpredictable careening off the sides of the screen causing mayhem down below. Other foes come outfit with a protective cover, requiring two shots to send to the grave. Some newfangled power-ups keep the odds balanced, however. With both the shield and the double shot equipped, the destruction occurs in waves.

Chain together a string of four consecutive kills of a like alien type (for example, four sidewinders) and further damage can be unleashed. The one-time special shots that result can help clear the playing field substantially. Horizontal and vertical power shots decimate rows and columns of approachers, boomerang and swarm missile blasts leave gaping holes in enemy formations and the laser will clear an entire playing field in seconds. Chain together these special shots and a swarm of invaders that took nearly a minute to clear is eliminated in the blink of an eye. It's unfortunate the game largely dictates which swarms you are "supposed" and "not supposed" to utilize these special shots against, however; some forces are aligned and cleared in the most obvious of manners, while others are mixed in such a way the tactic is all but removed from your repertoire.

Each level culminates with a boss ripped straight from the shooter archetype catalog, a nice addition but one that should have been fleshed out better. You've fought similar menaces before; there's the boss that constantly tries to crush you, hopping along the surface slamming his metallic girth. There's a boss that spews spinning white orbs you'll have to glide between as you bombard him with fire. There's the "ring" boss that entraps you within his borders and unleashes simple attacks made difficult because of the cramped quarters. Many will only prove to be a minor nuisance and all are formulaic; much like how it used to be for the alien forces, stick with an obvious game plan and you will succeed.

Down they come.

Down they come.

And should they fail,

Let another group come.


Space Invaders on the Nintendo 64 is the update of the classic one would expect to see on lesser consoles; its improvements are smart, logical and add depth to the original, but on a platform that transformed franchises like Mario and Zelda into living, breathing worlds, it's a pity another classic ready, willing and deserving of the transformation didn't see the same. These forces could be fiercer, more intimidating, more dangerous. The backdrops could be wondrous, fully-realized portrayals of the solar system; stale, stagnant surfaces simply don't inspire. The bosses could sport an ounce of creativity. Much like 1943 was an improvement over 1942, this Space Invaders is an improvement over the original. But this was a time when Strikers 1945 was already the norm; Nintendo 64 Space Invaders was behind the times at its release, and though a solid time killer, doesn't look any more spectacular today.

Rating: 5/10

drella's avatar
Staff review by Jackie Curtis (November 26, 2008)

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