Space Invaders, a timeless icon of retro video games

Retro video games, Space Invaders (Taito)

Last Updated on January 26, 2022 by Miguel S

Space Invaders was not only one of the most revolutionary retro video games of the time… Far from it! Taito’s program was not satisfied with being just a good game, but rather it kick-started an entire genre: the Shooter.

When you take a look back in time, you usually come across a multitude of retro video games that marked, in some way, your life. At least, to those of us who already have a few gray hairs on our heads. In general, these are titles that, despite their simplicity, were hopelessly hooked. Why? Well, because, in addition to testing our skills and reflexes, they achieved something commendable: making us dream.

One of those retro video games is considered by many to be the first shooter in history. A must-see work that marked a before and after in the sector, and that laid the foundations for a genre. We are referring to Space Invaders, a title that, even today, continues to maintain all the freshness with which it was born.

While it is true that the first shooter in history was Steve Rusell’s Spacewars, few remember it as such. It was the title of Taito that was made with such a precious blessing. Not in vain, the good work of the Japanese company made Space Invaders an international success.

As absurd as it may seem, at the dawn of the video game it was not necessary (nor possible) to make great graphic boasts. In fact, it was enough to have a good idea, some great designs and a bombproof gameplay to succeed. So, under this premise and the tutelage of Taito, an inspired Toshihiro Nishikado, creator of Soccer, got involved in a new project. The idea was to create a program inspired by a recurring premise of science fiction novels and movies, the invasion of planet Earth by aliens. Neither Taito nor Toshihiro could have imagined that they were about to launch one of the most relevant classic video games in history. Space Invaders, the benchmark par excellence of an ornate video game that was to come.

Classic science fiction plot

Nishikado’s proposal was simple, put the player at the controls of a laser cannon. The objective? Annihilate hordes of aliens that threatened to conquer the planet. An idea that, in the middle of the year 1978, went deep among the first disciples of the arcade universe.

Of all the retro video games we know, the gameplay in Space Invaders is one of the simplest. A fixed screen, rows of enemies sliding from side to side as they sprint toward the base, four shields, and a cannon. The player, at the controls of the cannon, had to eliminate the alien threat before it reached the ground. However, not everything was a breeze, in addition to shooting, you had to dodge enemy fire. Fortunately, there were several items to cover against the attacks and three lives! In total, we had to kill 55 “bugs.” These, not only could they avoid our shots with their movement, but their speed increased as we caused casualties in their formation. If you consumed all 3 lives, you lost. If the Martians reached the base, you lost.

Retro video games, Space Invaders (Taito)
Retro video games, Space Invaders (Taito)

Specifically, there were three different types of enemies. Each of them offered a specific score that ranged between 10 and 30 points. Eventually, during gameplay, a flying saucer would appear and cross the top frame of the screen. If your aim was fine-tuned and nothing was in your way, shooting down the flying object was possible and very profitable. The UFO is the only target whose score is completely random. So much so, that in the original drawer, instead of a certain number of points, three questions appeared. To avoid the fearsome Game Over, you only had a lever to move around and a fire button. No more no less.

Space Invaders, an unprecedented success

The success of the retro video game Space Invaders was resounding. So much so that a legend circulates that there was a shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan. The reason? The Space Invaders arcade machine. It is said that the Japanese government had to produce more coins to make up for the decline. The truth is that the rumor has never been confirmed, but considering the addictive potential of Space Invaders, it gains credibility.

Urban legend aside, Toshihiro had achieved an unprecedented milestone. Space Invaders was not only a fabulous arcade game, it was also a money machine. To date, the potential of video games as investment vehicles was unclear. Many believed that it was possible to generate profits with some products, but no one had proven it. Space Invaders was the feasible example that the video game sector could be a new industrial engine.

Video: Space invaders Arcade Machine

Here is a very interesting video in which you can see “up close” the original Space Invaders arcade machine. Without a doubt, a jewel within the reach of very few, due to its price, and due to the limited stock.

Of all the existing retro video games, Space Invaders is one of the few that has managed to become part of popular culture. Gone are the times when your drawers accumulated hundreds of coins from intrepid players. Space Invaders no longer makes money from arcades, but from pure merchandising. T-shirts, furniture, key chains, stickers… Any object is legal to serve as a “showcase” for the Martians. Such is the branding of the Taito game that, today, it even decorates the skin of thousands of people in the form of tattoos. An indelible ode to a great retro video game that will never disappear.

As a curious fact, it should be noted that Space Invaders implanted the word matamarcianos or mata-mata, a subgenre of shoot em up. The term encompasses all those shooting video games whose theme is related to spaceships and enemies from other worlds, whether they are from Mars or not.