Backed by a thudding bass beat, dozens of invaders from another world descended on our planet in 1978. Within months, Space Invaders was one of the hottest fads on the globe, helping propel the video arcade into a multi-billion dollar industry. Let’s take a look back and trace this history of this beloved game.
The invasion began in Japan when programmer Toshihiro Nishikado took the classic sci-fi riff of alien invasion and transported it to the video screen. The formidable aliens, arranged in a tight row and column formation, marched left and right across the screen, dropping down one level each time they hit the side. You controlled a lone laser base, defending the planet by firing back at the hostile armies. You could also move left and right, using four convenient shields to play a dangerous game of fire and retreat as the aliens unleashed their own laser assault.
As the invaders were knocked out one by one, their march grew faster and faster, until a lone invader sped across the screen. If you managed to hit them all, a new wave of invaders would take to the sky. But if the baddies hit ground zero, it was game over for you and for the Earth.
When Taito released Space Invaders in Nishikado’s homeland, the game caused a national furor. Hundreds of thousands of Space Invaders machines were produced, and the game’s popularity caused a shortage of 100-Yen coins. When restaurants complained that customers were playing instead of eating, Taito simply supplied them with sit-down cocktail cabinets, further fueling the Space Invaders hysteria.
That same year, Bally Midway released the game in the United States. The mania wasn’t quite as intense, but Space Invaders still proved to be a phenomenal success. The game almost single-handedly brought video games into the mainstream, and clones began popping up at an amazing rate. Some, like Galaxian and Gorf, went on to successes of their own, but none could match the popularity of the original.
As if the game’s arcade legacy weren’t enough, Space Invaders also helped popularize home gaming, turning the Atari 2600 from a little-known novelty into the must-have toy of the late 70′s. Atari won an exclusive license to market a home version of the Taito game, and 2600 sales skyrocketed.
Taito released a handful of sequels over the years, starting with Space Invaders II (a.k.a. Deluxe Space Invaders) in 1980. The new game added a bit to the aliens’ arsenal, having the invaders occasionally split in two when hit by your blasts. The “mystery” ships floating across the top of the screen in the original now played a more dangerous part as well, dropping in new invaders every once in a while.
Return of the Invaders, a 1985 release, presented new, more powerful invaders, along with the occasional challenge stage. 1991′s Super Space Invaders (a.k.a. Majestic Twelve) gave your laser base a few handy power-ups, along with boss aliens and a bizarre new challenge stage that involved protecting cattle from alien abduction. The series’ last installment to date was Space Invaders ’95, a graphically-enhanced take on the now-legendary original.
Space Invaders eventually lost its arcade supremacy to later hits like Asteroids, Centipede and Pac-Man but these games might never have made the big time without the breakout success of the original. The energy and fan mania that Space Invaders brought to the arcade were instrumental in creating the video game business as we know it today, and its legacy lives on in every space shooter that has arrived in its cosmic wake.
Were you around for the original incarnation of Space Invaders, or did you become acquainted via the Atari 2600? If you remember the mania that surrounded this classic arcade game, we welcome your recollections in our comments section as we remember this iconic part of video game history.