Platform: Arcade (and a bajillion ports and tweaks)
Genre: Non-scrolling Shooter
Space Invaders might very well have a claim on the single most important title in videogame history. This was the first mega-hit. PONG is responsible for being the first videogame to enter the public conscience back in 1972… and although it was the most popular machine for its time, it only proved the viability of arcade machines. From 1972-1978, Atari grew off the success of PONG and created a number of genres and types of video games – all with varying degrees of success. Then.. Space Invaders descends upon the planet, and the invasion is out-of-this world!
The usual lore of Space Invaders starts in Japan, where it became such a huge hit that a reported shortage of the 100-yen coins was reported and government had to mint more. True or not, this tale underscores how popular the game was and how many people were putting in coin after coin. In fact, there were specialty arcades that opened up with nothing but Space Invaders machines in them to service the incredible demand!
Taito then exported their arcade hit to the United States, where the American public proved its drawing power was not limited to the Japanese. It was the first time that an Arcade machine became a sensation. Not just a big hit with the small group of people familiar with “Arcade Games”, it broke into the public limelight like no other game before it. Space Invader machines started popping up in department stores, Mom & Pop businesses, convenience stores and more. It went far beyond merely an arcade hit.
The game itself told a vivid story and captured the imagination. The aliens are here and you need to shoot them down and save the world. Wave after Wave, getting faster and faster… the game has tension and drama and raised the heartbeat with the incessant descending four-note beat, “duhm-duhm-duhm-duhm”. One of the most dramatic “features” of the game was that as the invaders were cleared, the game gradually sped up due to the limited hardware capabilities of the time. (don’t call it a bug, it’s a feature). Some of the finishing touches were humor in the attract mode, an end-of-game scenario if the invaders touched down (not just a life lost), and of course the ability to get 300 pts EVERY time you hit the mothership if you knew how to count out your shots in a very specific manner!
With eventually over 300,000 machines sold in Japan, and more than 60,000 sold in the United States, it remains one of the greatest arcade stories ever told. The final importance of Space Invaders, however, was its important license and port to the Atari 2600. The perfect type of game for such a limited system, where even though the graphics weren’t up to the same caliber as the arcade, the gameplay remained. In fact, the Atari 2600 was in some ways an improvement on the arcade, incorporating all sorts of new variations which extended the replay value: moving bunkers, guided missile shots and more. It was the Space Invaders cartridge for the 2600 that finally caused the home videogame market to expand in dramatic fashion. It all but secured the Atari 2600 as the runaway leader for years to come, and underscored how important it was to have games that people WANTED for a system to be successful.