Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Space Invaders (SNES)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Simple gameplay that's true to the original arcade version
Cons: Poor graphics and sound for being released so late in the life of the SNES

Space Invaders is one of the most iconic games in history, and is a game nearly everyone should recognize from the title alone. This arcade classic from Taito was ported to many home consoles, with the Atari 2600 version being the mostly widely known and most played of these. This review will focus only on the version released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1997. Normally we could expect some great graphics and sound considering the game was released rather late in the life of the console, but that's not really the case with Space Invaders.

Space invaders is a simple game that takes place on a single screen. You control some type of little cannon at the bottom of the screen; you can move left and right with the directional pad, and fire a single projectile straight up with the B button. Once you fire, you can't fire again until the previous projectile hits something or goes off the top of the screen. That's all there is to it, so the game is simple enough for anyone to pick up and play.

Enemies consist of blocky pixel aliens, who in their infinite intelligence form up into 11 columns of 5 aliens each, and slowly zigzag their way from one side of the screen to the other while slowly moving down toward you. Some of them occasionally drop projectiles straight down in an attempt to destroy you, but you can either move out of the way or take cover behind one of the four randomly blocky barriers spaced across the screen between you and the enemies. These barriers take damage as they are hit (by either you or the enemy) and eventually get full of holes and destroyed, but they're nice for cover in a pinch. Sometimes it's useful to sit under one and fire straight up through it to give yourself a narrow little canal to fire at the aliens through, as they are much wider than their projectiles so you can often kill a bunch before one gets lined up just right to return fire through the little opening.

As you kill more and more aliens they start moving faster and faster, and when you're down to just one left that little bugger is zipping around so fast that he's hard to hit. The very simple background music gets faster as the enemies get faster and closer to the bottom as well, which adds a little frenzy and sense of urgency to the gameplay. Occasionally a little flying saucer will fly across the top of the screen as well, and if you can shoot it down you get some bonus points. That's really all there is to the game; if you kill all of the aliens you move on and do it again, though as you progress it gets harder and harder (aliens get faster, start lower on the screen, etc).

There are four different versions of the graphics, though they are largely identical. One is a standard black & white mode, and similarly there's a black & white mode with "cellophane" which is really just a couple of horizontal colored bars across the otherwise black & white screen. There's a color mode, but everything is just made up of single bright colors and it's honestly pretty ugly. I guess the best looking graphics mode would be the upright cabinet mode -- it uses a simple background image and semi-transparent white graphics. It's still nothing spectacular, but at least it looks better than any of the other three graphic modes. Sound effects are minimal and sparse, and they sound like they were taken right out of the 1970's arcade cabinet.

The best feature of this game is the versus mode where you can play split-screen against another player. Each player can choose how many lives to start out with and what difficulty to play on, and then they are presented with 20 aliens and 1 protection barrier. Most of the aliens are white, but there are a couple of different colored ones -- destroying the colored ones takes a line of aliens away from you and adds them to your opponent. Hitting the flying saucer that flies across the top occasionally actually switches all of the aliens, so if you're lucky you can go from the verge of defeat to certain victory instantly.

There's a small city at night time as background on each side, and whoever wins gets a little sunrise animation that brings daylight. The loser gets a red screen with a smoldering crater in the middle. While Space Invaders doesn't offer a ton of replay value these days, the SNES cartridge can be found for just a few dollars online making it an inexpensive addition to any SNES game collection. It's worth breaking out to play once in a while, and the versus mode can be fun with a friend for a few minutes. Overall I would give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic games.

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