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Home / Features / 45 years of Space Invaders: a classic arcade title that was out of this world

45 years of Space Invaders: a classic arcade title that was out of this world

Taito’s arcade hit is still abducting our attention, 45 years later

Space Invaders emulated screen

Few games can be revolutionary, but Space Invaders achieved just that on its release in 1978. Now, according to Taito, its arcade classic is officially 45 – and it’s had lasting impact. The game influenced a string of titles, including a captivating array of sequels. And it paved the way for contemporary replicas, such as the highly anticipated Space Invaders Quarter Arcades.

But… why was this game called Space Invaders when it looks like you’re shooting squid?

Octopuses, actually – well, at least the main invader. Keen to make a game to surpass BreakoutSpace Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado hit upon the player taking on legions of tanks. Sadly they looked rubbish, so he switched them for people. But managers were nervous about gamers killing humans – how times change! So, inspired by The War of the Worlds, Nishikado settled on blasting alien sea life instead. This laid the foundations for a $4bn smash hit.

Sorry, what? But it’s so basic. Were people really that bored back in 1978?

It’s easy to forget how innovative this game was. It dropped timers – then popular in shooting games – in favour of a lives system. You could lurk behind destructible shields. And a processor quirk meant the game sped up as you downed invaders. Then there was the ‘music’. Earlier games offered the odd jingle, but Space Invaders played an ominous four-note loop alongside shots and explosions. The tempo increased with that of the game, coming across like a heartbeat and matching the tension as it ratcheted up. 

Alright, get a grip. You wouldn’t want to play it now, though, would you?

You kind of have to by default, because Space Invaders DNA runs through shooters from Galaxian and Defender to modern Japanese bullet-hell efforts. Its sequels impressed too, such as the high-octane Extreme and the artsy Infinity Gene, with its journey through the evolution of a genre. Yet even the original remains tense, strategic and far more than an artefact – something dismissive modern gamers might realise on discovering they can’t get through a few levels without losing a life.

Six great Space Invaders sequels

Return of the Invaders (1984): This often forgotten third entry in the series ramped up the visuals and speed, along with having you battle varied formation types and bosses.

Majestic Twelve (1990): The series hits the 1990s, with glossy graphics, power-ups, and – most notably – a bonus game that involves cow abduction.

Space Invaders ’95: Attack of the Lunar Loonies (1995): This colourful effort took the ‘parody’ mode from 1993’s Space Invaders DX and ran with it, having you blast all manner of cartoon oddballs.

Space Invaders Extreme (2008): Taking a lead from Pac-Man Championship EditionExtreme is an intense and compelling bout of invader-killing in fast-forward, set to thumping techno beats.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene (2009): This artsy take briefly resembles the original arcade title, but rapidly ‘evolves’, with staccato levels leading you through the evolution of shooters.

Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders (2017) Why take one bottle of nostalgia into the shower, when you can have two? This mobile-first effort mashed the shoot classic into Taito’s reinvented Breakout.

Related: Two pint-sized Quarter Arcades cabinets mark Space Invaders turning 45

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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