Developed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released in 1978 by Taito in Japan and Bally (via their Midway division) in the US, Space Invaders is one of the quintessential 1980s video games. And, if I’m being honest, a little misunderstood (at least by me). I rarely played the game in the arcade; my exposure was always through the Atari 2600 version, and for years (decades really), I thought it was an Atari game.
I was wrong.
Space Invaders plays a minor role in Ready Player One, earning a one-line mention alongside other classic Atari 2600 games.
Beside the Atari was a shoebox containing nine game cartridges: Combat, Space Invaders, Pitfall, Kaboom!, Star Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, Starmaster, Yars’ Revenge, and E.T. — Ready Player One p. 102
The aliens are coming to invade Earth. Relentless as they are organized, the vessels descend from the heavens and only a lone planet-based gun battery can stop them.
One of the iconic early video games, Space Invaders features a massive force of 8-bit alien ships organized into columns and rows. Three destructible shields provide cover for your roving gun battery, which you use to blast the space invaders from the sky.
The aliens slowly move back and forth across the screen in their structured ranks, accelerating as you destroy them. The final ships whip across the screen, forcing you to use exact timing to blow up the vessels before they make contact with the Earth and end the game.
The Atari 2600 version had a number of different modes, including multiplayer, moving shields, and invisible aliens (an exceedingly tough mode).
Ah, Space Invaders … how many hours did I spend playing you? I rarely played the original arcade version, but the 2600 was a staple of my early gaming life. We moved on to better, funner games like Asteroids, Pitfall, and Yar’s Revenge but Space Invaders cartridge was always there, just waiting to be plugged into the console again. Like many of its 1980s kin, the game is utterly unwinnable; the best you can hope for is getting to a non-existent kill screen. Or maybe looping back to Level 1.
The game’s exceedingly simple and impossible to beat: the question isn’t whether the aliens will win, it’s how long you can hold out before they do. Space Invaders inspired other, better games, like Galaga and Centipede, but it’s fun to plunk down a few virtual quarters and play again for nostalgia’s sake.
Sadly, the fact that this was a Taito/Midway game, and not an Atari game means it doesn’t show up on compilation games like Atari Flashback Classics for Switch. There are stand-alone games like Space Invaders Invincible Collection but I haven’t found a non-emulator-based version of the 2600 version.
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score (2600 emulator): 1,340