Know the name Toshihiro Nishkado? Well, he's enriched popular culture with language, concept and myths. He has directly influenced your life. Who is he? He's the guy who invented the Space Invaders way back in 1978, when the pixel warriors came close to ruling the computer game world. Now they're back: bigger meaner and more devious than ever. But can the good old boys still cut it as threatening super nasties in the alien-infested Amiga world of the 90s?
Super Space Invaders takes the old theme - waves of little people slowly wandering down screen - up-rates the graphics, adds some ultra-mean new formations, invents whole new races of invaders, nicks your shields, adds some player power-ups and includes some truly silly bonus rounds. They may look like trimmings but they pull the gameplay up by the joystick lead.
It came from outer space
Super Space Invaders is a nostalgia trip, and the rose-tinted specs are pulled on the second that the title music starts up Authentic - not copied or imitated or recreated - Invader pings act as percussion to a War of the Worlds-theme pastiche, so you know you're in for a magical history tour.
When the first wave kicks on screen there's a rush of deja vu, these little critters sure look smooth - no pixelly blocks here - but they are positively identifiable as the same folk who tried to take over 13 years ago. Your base ship is familiar too, as it scrolls across the base of the screen shooting single shots at the space horde.
The Invaders wobble to each side of the screen, deceinding one line at a time until they reach the bottom. You have to blast the entire wave before they reach ground zero. The old tricks still work, such as blasting the end of the wave to make them walk further and give you more time, the old faithful alien mothership still slinks across the top; but that's where the similarity ends.
War of the worlds
Kill a mother ship and instead of points (the old way) a power-up pod drops. Grab the power up, pull down on the stick and see what happens: it's Space Invaders heaven - for you, not them - because all the weapons you could ever wanted are offered. Beam lasers are the best, producing a vertical line of alien death that can be swept across the screen.
Time stops are handy, freezing the little space folks while a butterfly flies up the screen. Laser waves can be sent up to destroy the lowest line of aliens. Firestorm swirls can be launched into their midst. And random fireworm trails can be used to mess up even the tightest Invader line.
The power-ups aren't the only improvement to the classic Invaders structure, now there are end-of-level baddies and bonus rounds too. The guardians are a series of big guys who need the power-up treatment to be seen off with speed. Filling most of the screen they hurtle around throwing as many laser bolts as they can muster.
If you don't happen upon a a guardian at the end of a wave then a bonus round awaits. This section - based on 1950s' American UFO hysteria - is all about saving cows from Bovine-napping. A series of sitting-duck invaders come on for target practice at first, but eventually a cow will become spooked and a tractor-beam alien screams down to try and carry them away. Killing the Invader, but not the cow, earns extra points and a thank you from the grateful burger-to-be. Keep all six cows safe and there's an even bigger bonus awaiting you: the Defender of the Earth.
The waves themselves aren't all true Invaders. In their years off, space peeps have obviously been negotiating with Galaxians, Gorfs, Phoenix and a whole host of other arcade bad guys. They've swapped tactics so attack waves can take any form. Knowing what each wave will do affects your strategy and repeated play is the only way you can learn. But that little problem should take care of itself, Invaders is classic fun.
"It's not like the original", but Invaders on the Amiga is definitely its own game
Plan 9 from outer space
Amiga Invaders are different, in a number of significant ways to their arcade cousins. Screen shape is the most telling, the arcade machine had a tall thin display while the conversion has a wider, monitor-shaped screen. The arcade is a speed machine, while the Amiga flavoured ones are slower. The coin-op doesn't have simultaneous two-player mode, but the conversion has. The information bars are displayed at the base of the cabinet version but the computer's has side panels which are clearer and easier to read. Graphically, the two are close enough to be twins, but soundwise the Amiga wins hands down.
These differences affect play. Speed is the common gripe, the Amiga moves its space monsters far slower than the coin-op. As everything is slower though, it is not to the detriment of the game. The atmosphere changes as a result, from an adrenaline pumping shoot-em-up to a tense test that gets the palms sweating as the chromium chaps get ever closer.
The slower start speed also makes the change of pace which accompanies the whittling down of invaders - as their numbers thin they move much faster - far more obvious. The slowish start speed may make some rabid conversion pedants froth, "it's not like the original", but Super Space Invaders on the Amiga is most definitely its own game.
Invasion of the bodysnatchers
The change in pace from coin-op to computer is a moot point, but all the other additions and variations give the conversion a positive edge. Two-player simultaneous mode is the most obvious and helpful of these, because waves can be cut down to size with speed if a coordinated plan is adhered to. The screen mode lends itself better to the format, the waves are wider and harder to dash past, while it offers more safe zones beyond the Invaders' reach.
Super Space Invaders is a good, arcade-inspired blast. It encompasses the best features of both original Invaders and the Super variety. It will never be something you play hour after hour, it's an arcade blast! It'll be played when you want a challenge but not an exam; when you want to kill something but haven't got the energy for a full-blooded shoot-em-up.
If you lived through the first wave of Invadermania, the Super Space will have a stronger grip than if you ht arcades afterwards, but ancient history is fun for all ages.
Super Space Invaders' charm is timeless, the game format is still a winner 13 years after the original. Cheers Mr Nishkado.