Developer(s) – Z-Axis & Activision
Publisher(s) – Taito
ELSPA – 3+
Paying homage to the original 1978 classic arcade title, the updated version of Space Invaders, released back in 1999, was far more than a simple remake; the developers rebuilt the game from the ground up, giving it a new lick of paint in terms of visuals and concept design and giving players much more to play for than a high score. Recently, I reviewed an example of how not to revive a classic arcade franchise in Dig Dug Deeper. But to counteract that, I thought I would write a review of an example whereby the developers got it right and Space Invaders 99 certainly got it right. Although I do have to say as a prerequisite that I did spend a lot of time playing this game when it was first released, it’s an experience that still holds up to this day.
Graphics – 8/10
From a technical standpoint, Space Invaders 99 is more or less on par with most PC games released at the time, as well as what was being showcased on fifth-generation hardware; which makes it seem all the more disappointing to know that there was a canceled Dreamcast version. It makes me wonder how the graphics would’ve possibly been updated for early sixth-generation hardware. But nevertheless, it’s in the conceptual design where this game truly comes into its own. The developers redesigned everything from the player’s ship to the enemy ships and added new graphical features such as the selection of different levels to progress through, as well as a series of boss fights. The soundtrack that was composed for the game also fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, sounding foreboding yet otherworldly at the same time.
Gameplay – 8/10
Having the template of the original game to work with, the general formula is the same; players must destroy incoming alien ships before they reach the bottom of the screen. However, what makes this incarnation of the game stand out from the original version is the plethora of new gameplay features, including a variety of different weapons to use, boss fights at the end of each level, and a surprising amount of unlockables, including a port of the original game thrown in for good measure. It also exemplifies how new gameplay features can coincide with new enemy designs, in that different weapons are accessible by killing four of one enemy type in a row. Players also have to strategize differently in accordance with each boss fought throughout the game. It’s a lot like Titan Attacks, only released over fifteen years earlier.
Controls – 10/10
On console and PC and like the first game, the control scheme is easy to get to grips with, even for entry-level players, not coming with any unnecessary complications or the kind of silly oversights that came with the likes of Dig Dug Deeper. They’ve also been updated in accordance with the additional gameplay features available to be taken advantage of, which only makes this game all the more impressive.
Lifespan – 10/10
Although the main game can take less than 2 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty settings, it’s a game like Star Fox 64, which although it can be rushed through, it can also be played and enjoyed on far more than one occasion and in a relatively short span of time. It is most definitely a game good enough for repeated playthroughs; add to that the fact that the original game can be unlocked, thus increasing the game’s longevity even further. Whilst most kids I knew at the time were playing Gran Turismo 2, I was hooked on this.
Storyline – 6/10
The game’s story is simply a basic premise; Earth is under attack by alien invaders and a sole fighter pilot is tasked with repelling them. But what makes this game’s story excel beyond it being a simple basic premise is how it is portrayed. There’s a cutscene for both the start and the end of the game, which portrays the player-characters struggles and triumphs, as well as a foreboding portent at the end. Of course, players ought not to be looking to play a game like this to immerse themselves in the story, it’s just a small tokenistic thing added to the game to give it that extra push over the line and it does make the experience all the more enjoyable for it.
Originality – 7/10
Although this game largely copied a blueprint that had been around since 1978, this version of the classic arcade game didn’t simply copy the formula but reinvented it with the inclusion of the many new graphical and gameplay features it has. It was games like this that also would’ve been instrumental in setting the precedent for many indie developers to do the same, such as with Titan Attacks and Ultratron. It’s a shining example of how a team of developers doesn’t simply revamp a classic game for the sake of it, but also to make the gameplay experience their own.
Overall, Space Invaders 99 is a wonderfully crafted and highly recommended take on the original arcade version of the game. It’s wonderfully innovative and charming labor of love that shows the developers all put 100% into making it, evidenced in every detail.