The Modern Impossibility of Taito’s Space Invaders

    When it comes to video game franchises, Space Invaders is a bit of an oddity. Its fame transcends generations but gamers would be hard-pressed to find somebody who has kept up with the thirty entries in the game’s canon.

    Apart from a black spot between 2010 and 2016, developer Taito has been releasing new Space Invaders titles regularly since 1979, with the most recent title appearing in 2023. So, why the silence around this legendary game?

    Space Raiders

    It’s probably fair to say that Space Invaders’ gameplay doesn’t mesh very well with modern ideas of entertainment. Surprisingly, gamers don’t seem to want it to catch up with the slow crawl of years, either.

    One of the few times Taito tried to rehash the basic Space Invaders experience, reviewers weren’t complementary. Space Raiders, not to be confused with the popular crisp brand, is considered a terrible attempt (“trite, monotonous junk”, to quote Gamespot) at a remake.

    Raiders was released in 2002 as a Gamecube and PlayStation 2 title. It retains the shell of Invaders’ gameplay, i.e. shooting an approaching and increasingly hostile horde, but replaces the players’ spaceship with gun-toting humans.

    Presented in the third person, much of Space Raiders’ action focused on battling monsters and aliens moving down a road toward the camera. Bosses and a storyline were added, as well as a few basic power-ups.

    Yet anybody could see that a negative reaction was inevitable.

    A Modern Makeover

    Taito had an impossible task making Space Invaders part of the 21st century. Just as turning Atari’s 1972 hit Pong into a 3D tennis game would forever separate it from its roots, giving Space Invaders a modern makeover will always be at odds with its precious 1970s simplicity.

    Taito and Space Invaders would eventually pivot to mobile platforms, following a brief period courting the Nintendo DS and PSP in the late 2000s. The void in the franchise in the six years before 2016 produced a near-halt in console-style games in later years.

    More recently, Taito found success licensing the Space Invaders brand to developers of other media types. The online casino games at Playstar feature an official Space Invaders slot that includes some of the original aliens on the reels.

    Space Invaders: World Defense

    Taito hasn’t quite finished with the experimentation that made Space Raiders such a disaster. Space Invaders: Hidden Heroes (2021) is an augmented-reality game that tasks the player with searching for allies against the aliens in household objects.

    It was closely followed in 2023 by another AR game called Space Invaders: World Defense. Despite a fun premise (battle the colourful invaders in real life), this entry in the franchise was poorly recently due to server issues.

    Overall, it’s not easy to see what Taito wants for Space Invaders, given a long and often perplexing history of meddling with the classic formula – but, again, it’s not easy to see what they could do with it without offending everybody.

    For now, expect to see more clones and HD remasters of the original title (like 2008’s Space Invaders Extreme), rather than something truly this century in design.

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