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Space Invaders Invincible Collection review

Shooting with the Alien

While the Switch has become immensely popular due to its strong line-up of Nintendo titles, third-party releases, and countless indie hits, my appreciation for the system comes from a slightly different place. For me, the Switch’s biggest selling point is its incredibly deep library of retro re-releases. Although most consoles see plenty of older games come back as solo purchases or multi-game compilations, the efforts to resurrect older Japanese home and arcade releases on the Switch have been at a level that I’m not sure we’ve ever seen before.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection is yet another Switch retro compilation that I’ve had my eyes on for a while now. The problem is, Taito’s efforts in this category have been something of a mess. Its Darius Cozmic Collection has seen no less than six different releases, with each containing a different line-up depending on where, when, or how you purchased it. Though going back to the Space Invaders series hasn’t been quite as complicated, this is the second time in less than a year we’ve gotten this collection (in a way) in the West. Last December, both the Switch and the PlayStation 4 received Space Invaders Forever, which contained a measly three games from the line-up of 11 we now get here on Invincible Collection. (Which, by the way, still doesn’t include the Mega Drive’s Space Invaders ‘90 that served as an Amazon pre-order bonus in Japan.)

The first three games in this collection are really, at their cores, twists on the same game. That game, of course, is the original Space Invaders, one of the most important and influential video games ever to exist. I hadn’t gone back to it in a long time, but in doing so here, it’s interesting how much of an emotional reaction the game can still elicit. At first, it might now seem slow and boring, but as the invaders get lower, and faster, and closer, I was surprised by how stressful and panic-inducing their descent, and its accompanying sound effects, remain.

Following that is Space Invaders Color Version, which added a fifth digit to the scoring system and color visuals (that, initially, were the same original black-and-white visuals displayed behind a multicolor screen filter). Last in the trio is Space Invaders Part II, a sequel to the original that doesn’t stray too far from the formula beyond a more advanced scoring system (including the ability to enter your initials), simple cutscenes, and some more complex enemy tactics. The advancements that came from game to game in this trio were incredibly important for the time, but may now feel extremely minimal—especially when considering Part II as a sequel. I think if you’re going to pick from one of these three games to play, Space Invaders Part II is the best one to go with. (Series creator Tomohiro Nishikado supposedly agrees.)

Up next are Lunar Rescue and Space Cyclone, two games created to run on Space Invaders arcade hardware. That was important because, after the popularity boom of the original release, there was a lot of that hardware out there in the world, and cabinet owners wanted new ways to make money with those machines. I’d never played either before, but I’ve come to have a soft spot for Lunar Rescue. It’s a very different style of game, where players must maneuver their spaceship to the bottom of the screen, rescue a human, and then fight their way back up the screen to dock with the mothership. Lunar Rescue is one of my favorite games of the entire collection, and its simple concept remains fun to this day. However, I can’t say the same for Space Cyclone. While the idea of defeating aliens before they can craft a deadly robot is neat in concept, it’s utter frustration in execution. The aliens are small in size and have very obnoxious rotating movement patterns, making them hard to hit, and the fully constructed robot (along with other special enemies such as UFOs) love to get in cheap hits on the player. I appreciate the inclusion of Space Cyclone for its historic value, as the game was rare even back in the day, and it’s received no home release before now. As something to actually play, though, it’s easily the weakest point of the collection.

That leads us into Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV and Super Space Invaders ‘91, two sides of the same quarter. Presenting a number of advancements over its predecessors, Majestic Twelve featured far more modern graphics, a two-player mode, power-ups, shields so your ship can take multiple hits, the ability to continue on if an invader reaches the bottom of the screen, and even a bonus game where you have to protect cows from abduction by flying saucers. I prefer the game in its Majestic Twelve self, which was the Japanese release where players could select which stage they’d visit next. Really, though, Super Space Invaders ‘91 is 98 percent the same game, just more streamlined and linear for Western markets. Whichever you pick, both versions offer up a good time.

The final three games directly included in Invincible Collection are each unique in their own ways. Space Invaders DX may initially feel a bit redundant, as its main mode focuses on playing the early Space Invaders games that are already part of the collection. From there, though, it offers “Parody Game Mode,” which presents the classic experience remixed with characters from other Taito games, along with “VS Game Mode,” a really neat option where two players battle head-to-head to see who is the better invader exterminator.

And then, we get to Space Invaders Extreme, easily the star of this collection. Originally released on Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, Extreme came as part of a wave of retro reboots that—at least from my memory—started with Pac-Man Championship Edition. Much like that release, the idea behind Extreme was to reimagine the core ideas of the original Space Invaders for a new generation, and it was a resounding success. Each successive stage offers new challenges and enemy patterns mixed in with a great selection of special weapons. As well, additional gameplay depth comes through focusing on chaining kills for higher scores and shooting down invaders in particular color combinations. I think Space Invaders Extreme is easily the best way to experience the franchise’s classic gameplay in a more modern and friendly way. Its inclusion here is only marred by the fact that the previously existing multiplayer modes are missing.

The final—at least, technically—piece of the puzzle is Space Invaders Gigamax 4SE. The original Gigamax was a special event-only version of Space Invaders created in honor of the franchise’s 40th anniversary. While that build of the game allowed for up to 10 players to take down aliens together simultaneously, this home port (under the moniker “4SE”) caps that player limit at four. Still, it’s an enjoyable experience if you’ve got others to team up with, and remixes the original with fancier colors, more stage variations, boss battles, and a new soundtrack from legendary Taito in-house band Zuntata. Gigamax 4SE isn’t Extreme levels of fun, and it’s nowhere near as appealing if you’re playing it solo, but it’s a genuinely entertaining special inclusion that adds something fresh to this collection.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection then comes with one additional game, but it’s technically a bonus offered as a separate download. Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders originally launched on mobile devices in 2017, and it combines the Space Invaders series with Taito’s classic brick-breaking franchise. As an Arkanoid fan, the crossover is more enjoyable than I would ever have expected. I don’t know that it’s ever quite as good as a proper Arkanoid title, but using your Vaus to bounce the projectiles of invaders back at them is an idea that’s so simple yet so brilliant. Unfortunately, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders suffers a peculiar flaw in its Switch debut. Unlike its inclusion in the PlayStation 4’s Space Invaders Forever, where it worked just fine on a TV using a controller, the game is only playable here by holding the main component of the Switch vertically like a smartphone and controlling everything via touch.

Beyond that frustration, Space Invaders Invincible Collection’s overall feature set is mostly satisfying. You can turn scanlines on or off, tweak various game settings, configure your controls, and—thank goodness—rotate the screen to play games in their proper vertical orientation. However, at the same time, there’s no option for turning off the border art when playing in standard orientation, which is a strange oversight. Additionally, all games except Gigamax 4SE have leaderboards, and about half the titles feature bonus Challenge modes offering score competitions under specific parameters.

The big question is if this is a good collection or not, and to answer that, I have to start with what Space Invaders Invincible Collection isn’t. Some companies have been stingy with the number of retro releases included in particular compilations, but we’ve received a pretty decent line-up here. However, Invincible Collection absolutely could have offered more than it does, leading to one absolutely glaring omission in my eyes: Space Invaders Infinity Gene. Space Invaders Extreme was the game that tried to reboot the franchise for a new generation, but it was Infinity Gene a year later that accomplished that goal on a level that I never could have imagined. If Taito had to pick between the two, they definitely made the right choice with Extreme, as it’s the safer and more traditional choice. They didn’t have to make that choice, though. We could have had both, and not getting the groundbreaking Infinity Gene on a compilation that’s not shy about adding in newer-era releases is simply disappointing.

If I judge it on what it is, and not what it isn’t, then Space Invaders Invincible Collection is a satisfying trip through the history of one of the truly pioneering franchises in our hobby. This is unquestionably a niche release, as many players (both young and old) just aren’t going to be able to connect with most of the games included here like they might be able to with some other retro franchises. And yet, for those like me who are enjoying the trip through the history of gaming that the Switch provides, I think this is a collection that deserves to be in your library due to the importance of the experiences it contains.

★★★★☆

Space Invaders Invincible Collection certainly isn’t the collection it could have been, and definitely isn’t a collection for everyone, but it is still a great look back at the Space Invaders franchise for those interested in such a thing.

Developer
Taito
Publisher
ININ
ESRB
E - Everyone
Release Date
08.17.2021
Space Invaders Invincible Collection is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Code/hardware was provided by ININ for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.

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