It’s highly likely that you will have encountered the simple fun addictiveness that is Space Invaders at some point, even if you missed it in the arcades. Ports, slight updates and compilations have appeared on a wide variety of systems over the years - Atari 2600, Spectrum, NES, Master System, Game Boy, Playstation, Xbox, PSP and mobile phones to name just a few of the options. Whenever a new games system is released you can be sure that Taito will try their best to get Space Invaders on to it. But with the game being available on so many systems, does Space Invaders: Virtual Collection give you a good reason to play it on the Virtual Boy?
Of course this isn’t just a port of the first game, it is (as the game title says) a collection. If you’re wondering how many games make up this compendium the answer is a rather underwhelming; you basically get the original and its 1980 sequel ‘Space Invaders – Part II’. Both are available in ‘Virtual 3D’ or ‘Original 2D’ modes but it’s not really much for you to play with – especially as they are quite similar games.
Play the 2D version of Space Invaders and you’ll notice that the action takes place in the center of the screen with what appear to be metal hanger doors on the left and right, acting as a border positioned slightly closer to the player. This slight 3D doesn’t distract and there’s nothing particularly wrong with the design, but it does seem a bit of missed opportunity to have used this as a border and not the original arcade cabinet. Otherwise, aside from the fact everything is red and black, it looks and sounds just like it did in 1978 with its basic beeps, blips and tiny explosions; the simplistic alien designs and the memorable but dull, slow plodding background noise.
It plays the same too, with the lines of aliens slowly moving down the screen firing at your cannon as you move left and right firing back, sometimes grateful for the cover the barriers provide, other times cursing them as they get in the way of your shots. Defeat all the aliens. Repeat. It's simple, fun and can be found any number of other releases. So what about the main draw of the VB version?
The 3D option is full screen and takes place in space above a rocky planetoid. The aim of the game is the same as the 2D version but the action is tilted so you can see the waves of aliens stretching back in front of you as they advance. The 3D is effective with the planetoid stretched out below you and the aliens getting slowly closer. There is also a good effect when the UFO swoops in front of you but the rest of the visuals disappoint as they are more or less the same as the 2D version. Though slightly larger, the aliens have the same blocky design whilst the barriers and your cannon are as basic as before. Likewise, the background noise and sound effects are lifted from the 2D version which is disappointing – especially as there’s some rather funky music on the title and mode select screens. With the original version already represented on the cartridge it seems very strange (or rather lazy) to have not put a little more effort into the 3D update.
If after playing Space Invaders a lot, you find yourself wanting an ever-so-slightly-different alien blasting experience then you can try ‘Part II’. It looks very similar and has the same sounds as well. Differences include UFO’s depositing more troops and a type of alien that splits in two when shot, but basically it plays the same as its predecessor. The 3D version includes a different backdrop to “Part I”: this time a city of some sort can be seen below. It looks quite good but as before everything else has a basic appearance.
Whilst there are no further games on the cartridge there are two other modes for you to try. ‘Time Attack’ sees how quickly you can clear a single stage of Space Invaders, whilst in ‘Score Attack’ you have a single stage of Part II in which to get as many points as possible (both are the 3D versions). It doesn’t add much to the game, but it’s better than nothing. Just.
The 2D version included here is a faithful port of the arcade original but fans could easily get this fix elsewhere (and with colour options) so the game has to offer something more. Only including one additional (very similar) game limits the appeal whilst the 3D versions disappoint. They may have good use of 3D and some decent looking backgrounds but sticking to the basic designs for the rest of the game and using the old audio was a mistake. For massive Space Invaders fans, playing in 3D offers something different they will want to try, but Taito could have done so much more with it. Anyone else wanting to play Space Invaders is better off seeing which of their other consoles/handhelds/wi-fi capable bananas it’s available for.