Space Invaders Invincible Collection: the ultimate celebration of a gaming legend

A western release of the Space Invaders Invincible Collection has been a long time coming. Originally released in both Standard and Special Edition formats in Japan back in 2020, European limited-press company Strictly Limited Games promised that they would be bringing this full package to the rest of the world — and in physical format, too.

Then, nothing. Strictly Limited continued to take preorders for other games and eventually got a few out of the door (including delightful collectors’ editions of Castle of Shikigami spiritual successor Sisters Royale and wonderful visual novel Coffee Talk), demonstrating in the process that while they are a company that is very slow to get things done, they sure as hell do things right.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

And this much is certainly true for their release of the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, which finally arrived on my doorstep this morning. Unlike the Japanese version, which withheld one of its games (Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders) as a downloadable “early adopter bonus” and kept three more (Space Invaders DX, Lunar Rescue and Space Cyclone) exclusive to the pricey Special Edition, you get absolutely everything on one Nintendo Switch cartridge — no downloads or updates required. Beautiful.

So what is the Space Invaders Invincible Collection? Only the most complete collection of all things Space Invaders you’ll find, taking in everything from the very first arcade appearance of the intergalactic terrors right up until some of the more unusual recent entries in the series. The only thing it’s technically missing is the PlayStation 2-era curiosity Space Invaders: Invasion Day (also known as Space Raiders in some territories), but we won’t hold that against it; that game was a bit poop anyway.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

And I really do mean this is a complete collection; there are several different variations of the original Space Invaders here, including the original black-and-white version, the colour version which allowed 5-digit scores instead of the original 4 and the “Part II” release which added a few minor extra tweaks to the formula such as splitting aliens and cutscenes between certain levels.

All of these three initial versions are very similar to one another, but it’s nice to be able to pick which particular release tickles your nostalgia glands the most — assuming you’re old enough to remember the originals from first time around, of course.

From a modern perspective, old-school Space Invaders is still perfectly playable and worthy of respect, but those who grew up with relatively recent generations of gaming hardware might find the gameplay a little too ponderous and deliberate for the most part — with the exception of the frantic chase of the last invader on each stage, of course. Space Invaders is, after all, a game about careful timing and accuracy rather than frantic blasting; since you can only fire a single shot at once, you need to make each attack count, and strategically whittling down the enemy forces from the outside in is much more important than just taking pot shots at them at random.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

Lunar Rescue is one of two games built on the same basic arcade hardware as Space Invaders, but it provides a very different sort of game. Here, you’re in control of a lunar module which must land on platforms at the bottom of the screen, avoiding floating asteroids during its descent. Upon successfully landing — which is a lot more forgiving than something like Atari’s classic Lunar Lander — a stranded astronaut will jump on board and you’ll launch back into the sky in order to deliver them to your mothership. While you ascend at a constant speed, enemy ships will attack, and you have the opportunity to fire at them as you climb.

The more astronauts you successfully rescue in a stage, the more bonus points you get — and then the whole thing repeats, with additional hazards and more challenging arrangements of enemies. It’s a simple but rather compelling game that is a nice change of pace from Space Invaders; the early stages might feel quite easy, but the difficulty soon ramps up and will definitely keep you on your toes.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

The second of the two games built on the original Space Invaders hardware is Space Cyclone. This is not a well-known game at all; very few machines were made and the game has never had a port to home computers or consoles until now. This makes it a worthwhile and praiseworthy inclusion in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection by itself; the fact that it’s an enjoyable game just makes things even better.

In Space Cyclone, you’re under attack from alien cyborgs called Bems. Bems ride clouds before leaping down to the ground in an attempt to build a space rocket with which to destroy you. You can blast them while they’re on their clouds, but you get more points if you hit them while they’re diving, Galaga-style. And while their rocket is dangerous once it launches — its powerful “cyclone laser” can make short work of you if you’re not prepared for it — it’s also worth a fair few points if you shoot it out of the sky, so there’s an interesting element of risk versus reward going on here, too.

Space Cyclone also features some delightful early digitised speech, with the Bems shouting “We’re coming, we’re coming!” as they leap suicidally at you, and “Gotcha!” every time they get the better of you. Besides being entertaining, the various speech samples also provide some helpful audible feedback for several gameplay elements; it’s interesting to see developers thinking about sound design to enhance gameplay in these early days of the medium.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

Following up Space Cyclone is Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV, also known as Super Space Invaders ’91. There is actually a minor difference between these two versions which warrants the inclusion of both in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, and that is that in Majestic Twelve you can pick which order to tackle the stages in, while in Super Space Invaders ’91 you follow a linear sequence of levels.

Regardless of which version you play, Super Space Invaders (as we shall refer to it hereafter) is likely to be the first game in this collection which has truly universal appeal. While still fundamentally following the basic formula of the original Space Invaders, this game ups the pace considerably, offers greater variety, has much more attractive presentation thanks to its colourful pixel art and synthesised music and actually evolves the formula somewhat through the addition of power-up items, many of which allow you to unleash special weapons.

The game features scrolling stages and boss battles as well as more conventional “Space Invaders” gameplay; in many respects, it can be compared to Namco’s rather lovely Galaga ’88 (also known as Galaga ’90), which took a similar approach at bringing one of the company’s classic properties into the 16-bit age with style and grace.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

Space Invaders DX, previously only available in the Japanese Special Edition of the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, is an interesting beast. It features an authentic port of the original Space Invaders — complete with the option to play it in either monochrome or colour — as well as a “Parody” mode, which replaces the original sprites with characters lifted from numerous other Taito games from the early ’90s, including The New Zealand Story, Bubble Bobble and Darius.

But the real attraction in Space Invaders DX is the two-player Versus mode, which features split-screen gameplay and an almost puzzle game-like feel. By blasting specially coloured invaders on your screen, you can either help or hinder yourself and your opponent; learning what each colour does is essential to success — as is being able to deal with the incoming attacks from your rival. In many respects, it feels like a spiritual precursor to ADK’s rather wonderful “puzzle shooter” Twinkle Star Sprites for Neo Geo — and it definitely has the potential to become a competitive favourite among players of all ages, since the mechanics are so straightforward to understand. Definitely a worthwhile inclusion in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection.

Space Invaders Extreme

Following this, we have Space Invaders Extreme, which honestly is worth the price of admission for the Space Invaders Invincible Collection by itself. Originally released as a 30th anniversary celebration of the game in 2008 for Nintendo DS and PSP, then ported to Xbox 360 in 2009 (and, eventually, Windows PC in 2018 for the game’s 40th anniversary), this is a frantic, noisy, chaotic affair that leans hard into the trend of synaesthetic games from the mid to late ’00s.

Adopting a much faster pace than typical Space Invaders games, in Space Invaders Extreme you’ll blast away at formations of invaders as the music pulses in the background, attempting to score bonus points by maintaining a constant chain of kills, hitting UFOs and nabbing power-ups. There are also, once again, some puzzle game-esque aspects to the game; hitting four aliens of the same colour in succession will award you with a power-up according to the colour they were, while hitting another set of enemies allows you to trigger a bonus round. Successfully completing the bonus round places you into “Fever Time”, which temporarily powers you up considerably and allows you to score a lot more points.

At first glance, Space Invaders Extreme might not feel much like Space Invaders, but as you progress, you’ll notice a lot of the same skills and strategies still apply. It still benefits you to think about the order you take out your foes; you’ll still be dodging patterns of bullets; you’ll still be carefully timing shots to hit UFOs for the maximum possible score. The main difference is that you’re now doing so while your senses of sight and sound are being absolutely bombarded with chaotic stimulation.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

Next up in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, we have Space Invaders Gigamax 4SE, which is an ultra-wide game primarily intended for four players to play semi-cooperatively. Beginning as a seemingly conventional game of Space Invaders that is four times wider than usual, the game subsequently moves through a variety of different, highly creative challenges and invites players to both work together to produce powerful shots, and compete against one another for the best scores.

The game can be played solo, but it’s extremely challenging to do so, so this game is best saved for when you have at least one friend on hand to help you out with the additional firepower. It’s definitely worth taking the time to experience, however, since the in-game soundtrack by Taito’s legendary house band Zuntata is, as always, quite the experience.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

The final game included in the western release of Space Invaders Invincible Collection is Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders. This was originally a mobile game that Square Enix (who now owns the rights to Taito’s back catalogue) quietly released in 2017, and seeing it stripped of mobile game baggage such as microtransactions for its arrival on Switch is a pleasure to see.

As the name suggests, in Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders, two of Taito’s classic franchises collide. In each of the game’s stages, you’re tasked with using Arkanoid’s “bat and ball” mechanics to bounce invaders’ shots back at them to destroy them. As the game progresses, the formations of invaders become more complex — and often hidden behind walls of bricks that you’ll need to destroy first — but you’ll also be able to purchase power-ups to make your life a bit easier. In the mobile original, you could, of course, spend real money on these, but in the Switch version you’re simply awarded currency according to how well you do.

Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is a fun game, but it’s a bit of a shame that the Switch port only runs in handheld tate (vertically oriented) mode and only uses touch controls; it would have been nice to be able to enjoy the game on the TV with some nice analogue controls, but sadly it was not to be. Don’t let that put you off, however; touch controls work great for this sort of game, and provide a nice sense of physicality to the experience as you “smash” the enemies’ shots back at them for more powerful blasts.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection

All in all, the Space Invaders Invincible Collection is an impressive lineup of games for those interested in gaming history and nostalgia. At the time of writing, Strictly Limited Games still has a few copies available, so get in there quick if you want one.

Alternatively, if your main interest in this collection is the three more modern games — Space Invaders Extreme, Space Invaders Gigamax and Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders — you can also plump for Space Invaders Forever from ININ Games, which lacks the more “retro” installments in the series. While some modern gamers might not miss the very earliest games in the Space Invaders saga that are absent from this package, it is a shame to lose out on Super Space Invaders’ solid 16-bit blasting and Space Invaders DX’s excellent versus mode — not to mention the historical curiosity that is Space Cyclone. So think carefully before you pick this over the limited-run Space Invaders Invincible Collection!

If you’re interested in Japanese gaming and you want to know your gaming roots, Space Invaders is a great series to get to know. And the Space Invaders Invincible Collection provides the best possible means to do just that. Shoot ’em up fans should consider it an essential part of their collection.

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Pete Davison
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