Review: Space Invaders Forever

20 Dec 2020

It should go without saying how pervasive classic Space Invaders is in pop culture and gaming history. But that didn’t stop Taito from doing almost anything and everything under the sun to mix up the formula to squeeze out as much from the franchise as they could. Arcades, home consoles, PCs, handhelds, and even smartphones aren’t safe from the endless onslaught of waves of Invaders on their screens. You don’t have to look very far to get your hands on any one of these games, nor do you have to adjust to the various entries found here. More often than not, they’re relatively affordable and easy to pick up in modern times.

With so many entries in the franchise, and the precedent of Taito’s prior compilations, it comes as no surprise that they’d throw another collection at Western audiences on (now-semi) modern platforms. While Forever features the likes of Space Invaders Extreme, Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE, and the mobile game Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders in this compilation, its Japanese counterpart Invincible Collection offers even more titles at the base level (the Special Edition adds four other titles). From a value perspective, that might seem a little weird. But there are times the quality of certain titles makes up for the lack of quantity.

Because this is a compilation of different titles, each of the games featured here will have their own section dedicated to them. Think of them as a micro-review for each. Not as detailed as a full blown review, but not so vague you don’t know what they’re about.

Developed by Taito and published by ININ Games, Space Invaders Forever released on the PS4 and Switch on December 15, 2020. The Switch version was played for this review.

Extremely Funky (Space Invaders Extreme)

The general concept of any Space Invaders game is as simple as the original title intended. Shoot down wave after wave of Invaders until you reach the end of that stage. Originally released on the DS and PSP, Space Invaders Extreme and its sequel took a more wave-based approach to the classic formula. What’s unique to this take is how intertwined it is with the music. Yes, you’re shooting down wave after wave of clusters of invaders in each stage. But doing so feels a lot more Rez-esque than you would think. Unsurprisingly, the pace is quite fast to stay in lockstep with the musical vibe that it’s going for.

The structure of the initial game included here is pretty straightforward. You shoot down wave after wave of Invaders, and along the way they’ll drop various types of power-ups to help you mow through waves faster. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but having shields, lasers, bombs, and so on at your disposal is a nice thing to have in the moment. You can trigger a Fever mode after passing that gameplay post, which is nice. But they’ll also throw some bonus chances at you if you’re able to reach them. Ranging from eliminating foes within a time limit, shooting the right Invader in a roulette, and so on, are a nice break in the pace despite being kind of blink and you’ll miss it. Dispatching Invaders of the same color will also net you various bonuses as well, but managing this can be a challenge depending on foe makeup.

Once you reach the boss of a stage, more often than not you’re faced with switching up your strategy and making sure you don’t fall on your face if you want to progress to the harder stages. You are able to hold your powerups, but I personally didn’t find myself doing that.

In the context of the original game, the fights are definitely a step up from the original. In general, though, I found them to be pretty standard. Occasionally you’ll find yourself in a bullet hell sort of situation, but if your skills are good enough you won’t have much of a problem. Since score is a factor, the bonus points offered here based on how quickly you dispatch the boss is something to keep an eye on as well.

Skill is definitely a factor in how you progress in stages. You’ll be able to finish a run in one sitting, but the replayability lies within trying to navigate your way through the branching pathways reminiscent of games like Outrun. Your rank is dependent on your score, and that rank dictates where you go on the path. Did you hold onto all of your lives and weave your way through the onslaught of enemy fire with relative skill? Your reward is the harder stages so you can test your mettle further. Did you find yourself falling on your face and seeing the game over screen without restarting the stage? Your rank will be low and the easier stages await you.

Visually, I feel that it worked within the platforms they were initially released on. However, this version came from the Steam re-release of the game. Because of that, it was afforded a little more leeway with the visuals. Everything is colorful and engaging, and even a little trippy at times. It’s occasionally a bit busy, but not overwhelmingly so. The electronic soundtrack here is quite catchy and even fun to listen to when you’re navigating the more difficult stages in this game. Honestly, I could see this game easily nestled into an arcade cabinet if given the chance. The amount of flash may very well catch the eye of passerby and at make at least a passing attempt at the game.

Considering the game’s portable roots, the pick up and play nature of these stages comes as no surprise. I quite enjoyed this take on the classic formula, despite my middling skill with the game. While I wouldn’t say that this title was trying too hard to keep your attention, the amount of flash and presentation here does enough to set it apart. This is definitely one of the stronger titles in the compilation.

Cooperatively Competitive (Space Invaders Gigamax 4 SE)

Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of couch multiplayer. Especially in a party setting, it’s always fun to fire up a game that’s simple to understand and engaging enough to encourage lively conversation centered around general gameplay progression. Sure, games in the various Jackbox collections don’t require much of a learning curve, but the same could be said for Space Invaders games as well. Gigamax 4 SE aims to wedge itself in the quick-pickup type of couch multiplayer, though I’d argue that it feels like a pulled punch for the sake of overt simplicity.

Firing up a run of Gigamax tends to follow a strict gameplay flow. Initially you and up to three friends will help mow down a large traditional composition of Invaders until most or all are defeated. Afterwards the phase shifts into shooting down various invaders that increase in size as you shoot them until they eventually pop. Given that you’ll be dodging shots and maneuvering your cannon throughout the stage, efficient placement will be key.

This is especially evident when you move into the time-restricted boss. This is where your score will be most at risk of being reset, as you don’t have to worry about a lives system. During the fight, you and your cohorts can team up to unleash a more powerful shot, though the execution can be clunky. If you run out of time during the series of (admittedly frustrating) boss fights, the constant restarting of the timer can be a bit of a pain when you may not be as skilled as your partner may be. If you’re lucky enough to retain your score at the end of a run, it’ll be sized up with your other partners/competitors to show who’s has the best alien slaughtering skills.

While skill disparity could be an issue, it definitely tries to be a fun experience. However, the gameplay feels like it could have been a little more varied in execution. From start to finish, the classic stage/inflating Invader/boss fight flow does not deviate at all. Functionally speaking, it’s in line with the classic style and controls as such. While I don’t think more features always translate to better quality, it doesn’t feel fleshed out enough to feel like anything more than a stripped down multiplayer mod.

Visually speaking, it can be somewhat dull. That’s not to say that using the classic sprites of the originals are bad or anything, but the amount of effort on screen is pretty evident. It kind of feels more like a “let’s just scale the sprites, give it a generic background, and add multiplayer” approach to the visual design here. The sound design isn’t anything to write home about either, sadly. You’ll get the classic sound effects, which is fine, though anything resembling music here isn’t especially memorable, which is pretty disappointing.

This is another game in the collection that comes with a very short run time, presumably to stay in line with the quick nature of a party environment. However, the execution feels like it’s just going through the motions and falls pretty flat as a result. The single player experience here was definitely an afterthought, which is quite a letdown. It’s engaging enough to maybe throw it out there for possibly one run with friends, but past that I find myself not wanting to return to this. Definitely the weakest entry here, which is sad given this is the only multiplayer offering.

Portrait Breakout (Arkanoid vs Space Invaders)

Rounding out the compilation is a port of the now formerly mobile exclusive game Arkanoid vs Space Invaders. Like you might expect, this game attempts to mash together both of these franchises and translate it to bite-sized gameplay experiences in line with the nature of most mobile games.

One major thing to mention for the Switch version is that it’s the only game that is exclusive to handheld mode, and exclusively utilizes the touchscreen in a portrait orientation (which does make for a weird way to hold your Switch). This is worth mentioning straight away because the PS4 version is obviously not a portable device, and is able to utilize the touchpad for TV play. Aside from the Switch’s touchscreen, there are no touch-based offerings on any of their controllers. No translation to traditional controls or even motion-based options are utilized for TV play either in the Switch version. While frustrating for some, the decision to use handheld mode exclusively seemed to be more of a design and hardware availability issue than anything else. It’s also downloaded outside of the main compilation as well, which may annoy some.

Control decisions aside, I found this to be the most fleshed out of the three games offered here. What little story is offered here falls into an unsurprising “space defense force discovers the titular invaders and has to defend against them” plot, there’s at least a little bit of personality in between stages to give it a little bit of sci-fi flavor. It’s by no means the reason to play this game, but it helps that even a half-hearted plot was thrown in here at all.

Stages themselves are time limited and short as a result, but the occasional extra time pickups that come with eliminating bricks and Invaders do help here. Given this game’s origins, bite-sized sessions make sense. Though the short length of stages aren’t much of an issue here, as the gameplay is quite engaging. Believe me, there are plenty of them to go around. It’s impressive given that most mobile games aren’t extremely pricey in general, but having that much content available is welcome here regardless.

Core gameplay is pretty straighforward. Your paddle (dubbed Vaus) is your main method of attacking foes, and you’ll be using it to deflect Invader fire back to them. Since you’ll be dragging the Vaus using the touchscreen around your given “safe zone,” controlling isn’t much of an issue. Depending on where enemy fire lands, it can also go at an angle. Swiping up “smashes” it back to your target, so there’s a little more strategy to this aside from mindlessly shooting into the field.

Once you deflect enough attacks, you’ll trigger Attack Mode. Once this is tripped, you’ll be able to launch what’s basically an Arkanoid ball to clear out bricks and Invaders alike. In this mode, you’ll be able to aim your shot and treat it as a fever mode of sorts, as it can wipe out Invaders quickly if you can manage it in the right way.

As you progress, you’ll unlock new characters that have their own unique traits that can be useful in play. There are plenty to choose from the further you progress, though you will have to recruit them with the in-game currency. The same can be said for the various buffs you can purchase with the same currency. None of these are game breaking, but they do well enough in a pinch.

Putting all of these gameplay elements together without falling back on any predatory mobile game practices or microtransactions is kind of impressive. But even without taking that into consideration, the gameplay loop here is pretty addictive. Oftentimes I found myself having to pull away purely on the “just one more stage” factor of it all.

Visually speaking, it’s absolutely within the parameters of a quick and simple mobile game. Everything fits the futuristic vibe that it’s going for and doesn’t feel especially busy upon a passing glance. Not that I was expecting something especially detailed here given its origin, but it’s nice that there was some level of thought is evident here. While the music might not be anything to write home about here, it at least falls in line with the setting the game has. There is some Japanese voice acting here, but it’s usually reserved for exclamations and the occasional quick dialogue.

All things considered, I was honestly not expecting as much content as I did from this game in particular. Admittedly, I’m not much of a mobile gamer. Though I know a good experience when I see one, and this one is definitely worth playing through. It’s not perfect, obviously. But I feel good in saying that this is a worthwhile addition to this compilation.

Touch and Go Invasion

When I look at any compilation that I even have a passing interest in, the top question that any of them should at least meet at the base level is usually, “is what’s here worth at least a look for my money?”

Well, yes and no. With Extreme and Arkanoid, I feel comfortable in saying that these games are rather fun and have a worthy amount of engrossment and replay value attached to them as a result. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Gigamax 4 SE. While it’s nice to see a genuine multiplayer experience represented here for the franchise, it feels more like a value add than anything else. Considering that Extreme currently runs on Steam for $19.99 and the surprisingly fleshed out Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders runs for $5.99 on mobile app stores, throwing that game in feels like a semi-weak justification for the $29.99 asking price.

If you’re looking for a centralized platform to play these games, the bulk of the titles offered here are fun enough to keep you engaged for quick bouts of alien-blasting action. Would I go out and grab this at full price? No, probably not. But having two solid offerings out of three at a sale price? It’s work a look. Just don’t get your hopes up for multiplayer.

~ Final Score 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by ININ Games for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of ININ Games.