Friday, July 9, 2010

Of Import: Space Invaders - Fukkatsu no Hi

Taito's seminal Space Invaders hit arcades in 1978, and was a huge hit worldwide.  Even as late as 1990, Taito produced Space Invaders: Fukkatsu no Hi as a HuCard for the Japanese PC Engine, faithful to the classic coin-op gameplay:

Fukkatsu translates as "resurrection" in English, and it's an appropriate title.  The card includes two versions, one of which is straight-up old school Space Invaders.  Past the title screen, the vintage attract mode screens are retained, updated for the console so that the aliens fix the upside down Y in PLAY as in the arcade, and remove an extra N from PUSH RUN BUTTONN on the PC Engine:

The PC Engine wasn't great at handling sampled sound, so the player's missiles and the mothership UFO suffer from sound effects that are similar to the arcade original, but not nearly identical.  Otherwise, this variation looks, sounds and plays just like its 1970's grandparent -- it preserves the color-banding look created by the black-and-white-with-overlays technology of the original, though it does cheat a bit by shifting the whole screen to red when the player dies.  It's familiar territory -- take out the invaders, row by row and column by column, dodging their fire by ducking behind our defense bases, and struggling to hit that final, speedy invader:

 The card also includes an updated version, which I almost missed completely as I didn't initially notice there were two game options on the title screen:

Space Invaders Plus features updated graphics, faster gameplay and a cheery musical soundtrack.  There are graphical variations every few levels, shields, and occasional powerups that drop down to help the player out with extra firepower.  But the game somehow no longer feels quite like Space Invaders -- the repetitive and droning but undeniably atmospheric original theme is sorely missed, and the look reminds me of the unlicensed versions I played on my Atari ST in the late 1980's.

After the first few waves are defeated, the game starts to look less and less like its inspiration; the visual style resembles Galaga '88/'90 more than anything:

In truth, the most impressive thing about this PC Engine game is the 3-D vector animation seen in the Space Invaders Plus intro and between-lives screens.  Someone at Taito must have spent considerable technical time getting these wireframe animations to work -- even if they're driven by canned tables of numbers rather than real-time 3-D transformations, the speed and smoothness of the line drawing is something I haven't seen in any other PC Engine game.  It's a small thing, and has no impact on gameplay, although the line routine is used for an aimable laser powerup that makes short work of almost any formation.

I have to admit that I was never very good at arcade Space Invaders back in the day, though I played the heck out of unlicensed imitations on several generations of home computer.  That hasn't changed -- I found Space Invaders Plus easier to play, with my forays into the original meeting with defeat early and often:

Space Invaders is a classic for good reason -- it established a whole new genre that lives on today in many forms.  And so I hate to say this about such a venerable title, but the original game has become dated -- as influential as it was, successors like Galaga have held up better over the long term.

Still, if we are to understand videogames as an art form, we need to play these early games once in a while.  What a pleasant shock Space Invaders must have been to gamers, that first day when the targets fired back.

If you're a Space Invaders fan with a penchant for an official Japanese console version, you may be able to find it for purchase at this affiliate link.

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