Space Invaders

Space Invaders (1978) and 3 sequels you never knew existed

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

These Space Invaders sequels may change how you look at the original video game series.

Typing ‘Space Invaders’ and ‘sequel’ in the same sentence feels a bit surreal to me, even as someone with an esoterically obsessive interest in the series. The 1978 original is a title recognised around the world. Even the most avid and casual players alike will default to the same mental image of blocky insectoids over a black backdrop.

Tomohiro Nishikado’s runaway phenomenon practically jumpstarted the burgeoning arcade industry, but honestly, that just covers the surface level.

The shockwaves of its success swelled into an indeterminable abundance of influence, branching into every form of gaming media that would follow in its footsteps. It inspired the likes of Shigeru Myamoto and innovated the high score system. It humbled anyone who considered gaming a cheap novelty by generating a billion dollars in three years. It also helped to invigorate a home console market bloated by a litany of tired Pong repaints (albeit before the biggest gaming crash in history, never mind that though).

Space Invaders on Nintendo Switch
The original Space Invaders (Nintendo Switch port)

In a broader more indirect sense, it did its fair share in shaping the nucleus of everything we hobbyists take for granted, in an industry that now dwarfs both its music and movie counterparts. Without drowning you in any more superlatives, I think that explains why perhaps nobody save for your 5-year-old son ever asks if there’s a Space Invaders 2.

Of course, there is a Space Invaders 2. The sequel was called Space Invaders Part II and given everything we’ve just discussed I wouldn’t blame you if it slipped your mind, after all, you might think updating Space Invaders is like reinventing the wheel; the game did everything it had to and honestly everything it possibly could within the constraints of its era.

To put things into perspective, there was no other game at the time concerned with atmosphere like Invaders was. Think about the daunting descent of the alien rows (explained in-depth in a Guardian interview) and their iconic Lovecraftian aesthetic- sure, we can take all of this for granted now, but this was 45 years ago.

Space Invaders 1979 version on Switch
Space Invaders part II (1979, Nintendo Switch port)

Perhaps most immersive of all these features, though, was the manipulation of its simple soundscape. How do you inspire dread when all you have is bleeps to work with? Nishikado had the answer- a metronomic rhythm that accelerated in tandem with enemies, taking pointers from Jaws, a film that had terrified audiences with its accelerando three years earlier.

It seems Nishikado himself was concerned with painting a moustache on his Mona Lisa; Space Invaders Part II was little more than an excuse to replace his old cabinets with new ones. The 80s had arrived but Space Invaders had little more to offer. New, post-level animations and enemies that split in two upon taking damage was the most you could expect from this sequel.

Part II wasn’t nearly as successful as its predecessor, owing all vestiges of its continued memory to a scattering of emulations on console compilations. It’s still Space Invaders, so it still consumed coins on a ridiculous scale, but it couldn’t compete with number 1. The question is, does this prove our redundant sequel hypothesis true? After 45 years of content, the answer is a resounding no.

Whilst it is true that Space Invaders’ key formula doesn’t allow for serious innovation, the fact is it doesn’t need to and it never did. With four and a half decades of technological advancements and a timeless formula that still entertains, even at its most basic function, there will always be room for welcome variations (many of which can be found on the Space Invaders Invincible Collection).

Today we’re going to look at a mix of lesser-known sequels, to establish which of them brought the best out of the granddaddy of gaming.

Space Invaders ’91

The year 1991 was a great one for Space Invaders. We were now over ten years removed from the series debut and its presentation was left looking more than a little dated. Luckily, this entry was able to build on the game’s standout tropes with a new decade of improved visuals and game design.

‘Rounds’ were now essentially levels themed around cosmic backdrops. These rounds were enhanced with hand drawn illustrations which meshed muted palettes with eerie environments. This made ’91 a first for creating a sense of progression, as the player fought through waves of enemies (and even bosses) in pursuit of the final round.

Space Invaders 91 sequel

Invader designs were varied and often leaned deeper into the abstract side of things, making for some freaky encounters. The implementation of a full soundtrack and a co-op option only sweetened the package.

This game had the freedom to realise an ominous new depth of identity beyond a stiff, passing tribute to cosmic horror. It commanded a newfound confidence of its concept not seen in the initial games. ’91 showed players that the future of the franchise was bright, with a dark new demeanour that set the stage for following releases to relish in its sci-fi premise

In 1995, things got crazy

After offering players an insight into the dreary future of the franchise, this game took an amusingly abrupt 180 from menacing to whimsical. The freakish cast of 91 were gone, replaced by a cutesy platter of cartoon foes. Clearly a game looking to inject its IP with a dose of parody, ’95 did anything but take itself seriously. Player 1 and 2 each had their own ensemble of protagonists to choose from, ranging from dogs and cats to actual pieces of fluorescent poop (seriously).

Much like ’91, rounds took place over different backdrops, only ’95 had themed worlds such as a haunted house and even one where you crash the invaders’ holiday resort. With a jovial soundtrack that musically matched the game’s on-screen antics, this is a title I really can’t recommend enough.

One of the game’s biggest strengths is its feeling of exploration. As you complete stages your characters will travel on rails along the area to the next part of the world, giving it a greater sense of adventure than most iterations. Stage 4’s first level, for instance, might see you just outside the walls of a haunted castle, whilst subsequent levels see you travel further within to combat its ghostly inhabitants.

Considering this game was essentially Taito’s answer to Parodius, I’d say it achieved what it set out to do and more. Baffling, zany and easy to revisit, it stands as a must-play experience for fans wanting something totally different from the original.

Space Invaders (1999)

I thought to end this trio of games with a personal favourite. There are some of you who may have thrown in your towels before 1999 as far as gaming was concerned. If you did, you might not be familiar with the prevailing themes and feelings routinely presented in games at the time.

I mention this because games released around the very late 90s and early 00’s often shared a common identity- an aura of pensive bleakness projected through a grittier presentation. It would tend to result in games taking themselves very seriously, veiled in an unmistakable angst.

In retrospect, this trend looked to echo the apprehension of a new millennium, mirroring the uncertainty that lay in the years ahead. It was as though any subconscious doubts and anxieties were being channelled directly into the media we consumed. Let me tell you, nothing reaped the benefits of this trend like Space Invaders did. Often stylised as Space Invaders 1999 and published by Activision, this iteration fitted its era like a glove.

Space Invaders 1999 sequel

What better series to exemplify the fear of the unknown than Space Invaders? Much like ‘91, this game had a real attitude about it. The Invaders had a new look, now akin to armoured shells in many rugged designs. They each boasted not only their own attack patterns, but also special abilities which the player could obtain upon shooting four of them in succession. Power ups like shields and ‘double shot’ helped to freshen the pace of play.

The battlefields were a lot closer to home, literally, with levels taking place on each planet in the Solar System (10 for each planet). Backgrounds were barren, often obscured in darkness and left more to the imagination than simply painting a clear picture. This was just another technique in the playbook of an entry looking to be more mature than the rest- I’d say it worked.

Boss battles were back, with designs that were both legitimately imposing and functionally unique, their life bars as big as their intimidating statures. The OST was often minimal but packed a punch, layered with erratic synths and rotund lows. Sharing the hallmarks of a techno DJ’s secret stash, the music really helped in enhancing this game’s dark vision. With so much content to choose from and releases on home consoles (PS1, Nintendo 64 and PC) this title is still a fun challenge for all looking for a fresh take on a title as old as gaming itself.

Of course, there have been so many Space Invaders sequels left unexplored in this list, but I think that’s the point. With the original title being such a powerhouse, any revamps are instantly doomed to obscurity by comparison. If there’s one take away lesson though, it’s that these newcomers are more than just bells and whistles. Maybe your new favourite takes on the classic are somewhere waiting to be discovered. Happy hunting.

About the author

Will has been a writer in the industry for seven years, chiefly on the topics of fitness, well-being and gaming. A life-long collector of rare and obscure games and consoles, he also has a warm fondness for all things arcade gaming. When not working out and writing, he can be found patiently waiting for his favourite arcade oddities to hit the market once more.

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