Oh look, another Space Invaders game, woo, how fantastic. A cursory search of Space Invaders on MobyGames will net you over 250 results and that’s not counting the rip-offs. Space Invaders might just be one of the most copied formulas in the history of gaming, hell almost a quarter of the Atari 2600 library (not really) is just the basic premise of Space Invaders, move-around-the-bottom-of-the-screen-and-shoot-at-things, but with a few tweaks here and there, and this is when the game concept was new. So what do you do when you have such a pop culture icon of a game? You release it on everything of course, and that’s exactly what Taito did and still does. But you can’t keep releasing the same old game year after year, eventually people will get bored of it, so Taito decided to make changes to every new version that they released, this lead to the moniker of ‘Super Space Invaders’ because it’s Space Invaders… But super. So… over a decade after the initial release of Space Invaders Taito decided to release the upgraded version of their arcade smash hit, Super Space Invaders in arcades everywhere, this was accompanied by a fairly blanket release on most popular game consoles, and home computers, including the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum of all things. I only have one of the released versions, the IBM PC and Compatibles release, after my experiences with the PC version of Street Fighter II I’m approaching this one with extreme caution, this is Super Space Invaders on PC.
For a 1991 DOS game this actually looks pretty damn nice. Unlike in the original where you just had the black background, or the reflected background, here you get rich, colorful, and detailed backgrounds. I’ve only seen a few of these backgrounds but I wish there were zoomed, enhanced, and cropped versions so I could set them as my desktop background. The invaders are just as varied as the backdrops they come with, from the classic Invaders re-imagined to giant scarabs to brains in jars, this game is wild. I would gush a bit more about the graphics but I haven’t actually gotten to see them on account of this game’s rather brutal difficulty, but I’ll get there in a moment.
As for the sounds, well, they’re your standard 90’s SoundBlaster fare, a whole lot of FM synth. I think the sounds are adequate, nothing really to praise or complain about. I would try to select a different sound card but this game is already gar enough to run in DOSBox as is and will simply refuse to play if I tamper with the sounds settings, so SoundBlaster it is.
The gameplay? Well it’s Space Invaders, but Super, with a capital S. Instead of just the standard formation of invaders over a single level of increased difficulty with SSI you get oodles of different formations over 52 levels, including bonus levels and bosses with increasing difficulty. My original worry was that this was going to be a repeat of Street Fighter II and that everything was going to be slow and choppy, this couldn’t be further from the case. The shooting is fast and smooth, just like what you’d need for a shooter like this, unfortunately there are a few issues that I feel the need to point out. The controls are a bit odd, Z and X is used to move Q shoots and A fires the special weapon. I f I try to use this control scheme one handed I die in seconds, and if I use both hands then I wind up with cramping because both of my hands are squished into that tiny corner of the keyboard. I would change the controls, but again DOSBox won’t take anything but the default so I will manage with what I’ve got. The final issue I have is the difficulty, the game starts out much too hard. There are 52 levels to this game, so why can’t I get past level one without losing half of my lives. I know difficulty is subjective, what might be difficult to some is easy to others, but you try to hit anything past that impenetrable wall of enemy fire, also you don’t have your shields, you can only get them as a rare power-up from hitting the mothership that flies overhead every so often, at least you can take multiple hit before being destroyed, otherwise the game would simply be impossible.
While the game is almost crushingly difficult it also has a charm that keeps me playing it over and over again, I actually like this game despite my complaints. It doesn’t look like this game is all that rare to find, since copies on Ebay are listed at around 20 dollars for a CIB copy, a fair price to pay for a decent upgrade of Space Invaders. If you don’t have a spare PC compatible lying around you can download this game free online and play it with DOSBox, or whichever DOS emulator you prefer, though I would recommend having the physical game with you before you pirate a copy.