SPACE INVADERS ANNIVERSARY (PS2: Taito/ Japanese import)
Bought from www.play-asia.com for about 9 (inc shipping)
(UK release early April 2004, 9.99 inc shipping from www.play.com)

Sometimes, you can get nostalgic for the days when there was no retrogaming. Ever since the release of Williams Arcade Classics on PC and Mac a decade ago - the event which marked the real start of the retro phenomenon we know today, though it wasn't strictly the first commercial retrogaming product - awakened software publishers to the cash-milking potential of their forgotten old software, we've been subjected to a drip-feed not of the greatest or most interesting games from the proud and varied history of gaming, but largely to endless repackagings of the same tiny handful of well-worn "classics". Asteroids and Missile Command, Defender and Robotron, Pac-Man and Galaxian - fine and seminal games all, but every one of them has been retro-released in at least half-a-dozen different packages across a dozen formats.

Meanwhile, a vast galaxy of equally-deserving games, even from the same publishers, remain lost and unresurrected. Namco's "Museum" series on the PS1 commendably started out by including obscure gems alongside the blockbusters, but latter releases in the franchise gave in to the marketing men and the mainstream, and you're more likely to get five Pac-Man variants and five Galagas on a Museum disc now (and none of the beautiful "virtual museum" presentation of the first six compilations, either).

At least the inherent cheapness of the software business has been eroded a little over the retro years, though - the days of skeletal retrogaming packages featuring just four or five ancient games have faded away, with releases like Midway Arcade Treasures offering a beefy 20-odd titles, including some rarities, and featuring games from much closer to the modern era as well as the really vintage stuff. Space Invaders Anniversary, on the other hand, is like a trip back in time - not to the era of the original Space Invaders arcade game, but to the old days of retro. It's retro retro, if you will. What?


"Blimey, who did your walls? Bloody cowboys."

Space Invaders Anniversary (released to commemorate 25 years since the first arcade Invaders game changed the cultural face of the world) revisits the days of retrogaming in both good and bad ways. On the good side, the games in this compilation are presented in a slick 3D environment reminiscent of the first Namco Museums - an authentically backstreet-looking little virtual Japanese arcade packed with variously-styled Invaders coin-ops which you can walk up to and slide a virtual coin into, and in which (unlike any arcade this writer has ever visited, sadly) there's also a little library of historical memorabilia, in the form of old flyers, technical documentation, and a filmed interview with the game's creator, Toshihiro Nishikado. (Sadly, in your reporter's Japanese import version, all of this archive material is in Japanese, with no subtitles or anything, so you'll have to wait for the UK release to find out how interesting it is.)

In a neat innovation, Anniversary even lets you choose how close you want to stand to the virtual machines in its cheaply-decorated pretend arcade - you can play the games close up, as if with your face pressed against the glass for the very best view of the invaders themselves, or you can step back a little and take in the pretty cabinet artwork while you blast the bad little space guys. And in another nice touch, the normal sounds of your play are also accompanied by the ambient background noise of other people in the arcade playing Invaders (or, more oddly, any of several other Taito coin-ops) - though when you finish your game and turn to look for them, you're mysteriously alone.

On the downside, Space Invaders Anniversary also retreads some of the bad old days of retro. This virtual arcade has just nine machines in it, and only five of those are distinct games - Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II (in a few differently-coloured variations), and three games which as far as this reviewer knows were never coin-ops: Space Invaders Doubles (the basic Invaders, but with two players playing at once, and which you need a second joypad for, there being no option for a CPU buddy); Space Invaders VS, a weird-looking head-to-head battle game (in which you CAN play against either the CPU or a human opponent), and Space Invaders 3D, a modernised version  with Tron-esque wireframe 3D graphics, a couple of minor powerups and a wide range of viewpoints, all the way down to one where you see the invaders from right inside your Laser Base, which looks fantastic but is insanely hard to play from.


Just about the lowest viewpoint in 3D Mode that you can sensibly use.

Anniversary also reflects the negative aspects of commercial retrogaming in what it doesn't include. For one thing, these appear to be simulations, not emulations - and low-res simulations at that, which is a bit of a shame given the power of the PS2. The machine could easily have rendered these games in photorealistic graphics, with dramatic lighting effects and reflections and all the rest of it. Instead, the graphic resolution on the vintage games is barely up to SNES standards - at any of the more distant viewpoints, the invaders are just indistinct blobs, and laser shots so hard to see that the games verge on unplayable.

Secondly, of course, there are all the other Space Invaders games that aren't included here. For a quarter-century celebration, you'd think Taito might have taken the trouble to organise a proper family reunion. But where's Space Invaders II, the rare two-player cocktail-table VS game from 1980? Where's the first true colour sequel, Return Of The Invaders (1985)? Where's the brilliant Super Space Invaders/Majestic Twelve (1990)? Where's 1994's Space Invaders DX, which featured much of the content of Anniversary plus a cool new hi-res "Parody Game" version of classic SI featuring other Taito game characters as the invaders? Where's the funny, cartoony Space Invaders '95? Where are novelties like Prize Space Invaders, a cash-payout coin-op from 1990? How cool would it have been if you could have played it in the virtual arcade, then used the money to buy little virtual collectable toys (like in Shenmue), historical Invaders memorabilia and merchandise, or unlock extra games (like the official handheld/keyring/LCD versions, maybe) or some of the documentary materials?

Perhaps it's not fair to expect such high-end content and qualities in a game released in Japan for the equivalent of less than a tenner, of course (naturally, the UK RRP is twice that high, but it's available to pre-order on the web for pretty much the Japanese price - see the link at the top of the page). But for such a significant birthday, wouldn't it have been nicer to see a truly definitive, high-resolution, all-inclusive and comprehensively-documented history of the most important videogame of all time, even if that meant paying normal price? 


VS Mode appears to be all about shooting the Mystery Ship (not pictured).

This review hasn't - as alert readers may have spotted - actually mentioned Space Invaders the game yet. Partly because if you don't know what Space Invaders is about by now, you've almost certainly come to the wrong website by mistake, but also because, let's face it, the game isn't really the point of releases like this. This is the gaming equivalent of a coffee-table book, really aimed not at gamers but at the sort of people who like to decorate their shelves with tasteful and "classic" artefacts and get agitated and unhappy if they don't own all of Mojo's 100 Greatest Ever Albums, even the ones by Captain Beefheart that nobody in the world has ever actually played all the way through. (Or at least, not while they themselves were in the room.)

Nevertheless, it's worth pointing out in passing that Space Invaders is actually still a pretty good game. Although the first couple of waves give the impression that it's going to be dull, plodding and easy, Space Invaders ramps up the difficulty hard and fast, and you're going to need reactions, strategy and forward planning if you're going to get some high scores, or even reach the 10th level, where the relentless march of the invaders ever-closer towards your defence bunkers at the start of each wave is temporarily relieved. (Thankfully, and unlike several unforgivably-dismal recent retro compilations whose developers should be eaten by wolves, Space Invaders Anniversary DOES give you the opportunity to save your high scores to the memory card, giving you something to play for every time you load it up.)

But on the whole, despite the cheapo sub-10 price (which gets SIA a significantly higher mark than it would otherwise deserve), this is a disappointing release - a missed opportunity to do something really good, passed over for the chance of a few quick pennies. Very few games will ever achieve a status as iconic as Space Invaders, and it's a bit of a shame not to see the old stager treated with something more approaching the dignity it deserves. Maybe the 50-year anniversary edition will do the job properly.

53 PERCENT

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