OK, I'm not going to lie, I heard this one was put to a vote and I laughed, heartily, that people voted for this over both Blaster and City Bomber. I mean, damn, you must really enjoy it when we cover total garbage, huh? I mean, shit, I do too, mostly because I get to hear my writer minion curse and swear a lot and that gives me precious life energy, but... Er, anyway, this is a PS2 game and as such carries the standard 'our screenshots are hot garbage' disclaimer, but you can click them to make them bigger anyway.
This isn't exactly a shining moment for the Space Invaders.
It could, however, count as a cornerstone moment for the series, albeit not quite the one Taito would perhaps like.
Before we get started, then, a little context! In the long-distant past of 2002 (and 2003), Space Invaders was in a pretty weird place. After Space Invaders '95: The Attack of Lunar Loonies, the Invaders basically left the arcades, and coasted along for several years with just ports and remixes of the original game for every console under the sun. The last major 'new' release in the series up to that point was the unusual Western-made Space Invaders (Space Invaders X in Japan) developed by Z-Axis, probably best known for extreme sports games including the David Mirra series (and yes, BMX XXX). However, in 2002 Taito set about making their own home console Invaders title (and it was indeed Taito- the staff members in the credits have games like Psychic Force, Exit and Bujingai- a collab with Red Entertainment- to their name)... With, ahem, interesting results. Released as Space Raiders in certain territories (see Extended Play for more on that mess), horrid alien beings have taken over an unnamed city and either mutated or slaughtered the entire populace... Except for three survivors- Justin, a teenage gang leader; Ashley, a photographer searching for her boyfiend; and Naji, a SWAT team member who lost his partner. They arm themselves and take to the streets to make a desperate last stand against the maraudering invaders.
Well, I am a fan of hopeless battles that lead to certain doom, but...
Despite the new plot and fancy 3D graphics, Space Invaders: Invasion Day is actually just a gallery shooter in the same style as the original game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you- when done well, gallery shooters are fun! I still like the original Space Invaders every now and then, and titles like Satan's Hollow, Sasuke Vs. Commander and Gaplus show that there's still plenty of things you can do with the genre. Invasion Day, however, is not one of those games, though it does have some ideas of its own. As ever, you're at the bottom of the screen as the enemies occupy the top area and try to kill you. There's no 'invasion' status here however, as enemies that get close enough to you will just do a melee attack instead, so you don't have to worry about the clock, just survival through six stages consisting of several (way too many, in fact) enemy waves, followed by a big boss encounter. Your character does get a few extra moves from the norm, at least- as well as an actual health meter, there's an evasive roll (two, technically, one for left and one for right) that get you out of harm's way and, amusingly, hurt invaders if they're close enough, and two types of bombs, normal grenades (1 bomb stock) and special weapons (2 bomb stock) which differ depending on who you pick (Naji gets orbs that reflect shots directly at invaders, Ashley gets a shockwave, etc.). There's also items dropped by UFO-type enemies, just like Super Space Invaders '91 and '95 that can speed your character up or summon a hologram to attack invaders. Standard stuff, no?
It's really the final wrinkle that does its level best to highlight the biggest flaws with Invasion Day, and that's the combo system. There's a number in the top-left that keeps track of how many shots you successfully land on enemies or environemntal shields/objects, and as that number increases, your basic shot will get a lot stronger. There was a similar mechanic in Space Invaders '95, but back there, scoring consecutive hits was purely a score multiplier. The first power-up is at 10, then 30, then 50, then 100 consecutive shots, and it probably goes on like that but if you miss a shot or get hit, you lose your upgrades and start on the standard pea-shooter again. The problem here is that you absolutely need those upgrades because the game is a complete slog withouth them- far too many waves per stage, and far too many enemies who take far too long to kill. That includes the bosses. However, actually keeping that combo going feels way harder than it should be, because you're going to miss the bastards. Believe me, you will, and this plagued me throughout my playthroughs.
For a while I couldn't quite figure out, or articulate, why it was so hard to keep a bead on enemies and keep my deeply-necessary power-ups, until I started thinking about other gallery shooters and what they do. Looking at the classic-era Space Invaders/Galaga style of gallery shooter, their strength is in the visuals, how you appear on screen. Almost all the classic examples have a very clearly-visible cannon, pointing upwards from your ship or tank or whatever you're piloting, indicating precisely where your shots are going to come from, and when you learn the rate of fire and speed your shots travel up the screen, you have all the info you need to play effectively, and thus you get the satisfcation of making the shot. This is almost exactly what Space Invaders: Invasion Day doesn't do- because of the weird behind-the-character camera angle, it's far harder to judge where a shot is going to come from and how it's going to travel down the screen than it should (the camera angle does change during certain waves to a more birds-eye-view but never for more than one or two waves at a time). This is exacerbated by the gun muzzle sometimes being obscured by the character themselves, and if you play as Ashley, her twin pistols alternate shots making it even easier to miss. When the most basic action is frustrating like this, no wonder the game turns into a chore. Combine this with the sluggish and awkward-feeling movement of the characters (especially during a roll- if you don't hold a direction the roll barely covers any ground, and even when you do it right it just feels off and floaty) and you have a gallery shooter where it feels like the game's doing everything to make itself overly frustrating and so dull it's more a test of endurance than skill- and really, isn't it worse for a game to be dull than to be really bad but interestingly so?
The aggravating thing is that if Invasion Day's core mechanics were enjoyable, it actually has quite a few things you'd expect from a 'good' gallery shooter! There's several different enemy types with a variety of attacks between them (like the plant guys that can duplicate themselves, reanimated mutated corpses that try and drive cars into you, and shield guys that rush you if you shoot them too much), playable character variety (although in this case, it's basically 'play as Naji and do not play as Ashley unless you have time to spare'), some mild curtain fire elements to some of the enemy patterns, and an interesting setting/theme (as corny as it is, the street battle setting of the game is pretty neat really!). About six months after the Japanese release of the game, a Simple Series title with a similar theme but drastically different (and better) game mechanics would come out- a little thing called The Chikyuu Boueigun, better known as Earth Defense Force- so at least someone took the idea and ran with it with better results. Of course, all that potential's lost with the fact that the game is a total slog both due to its half-baked game mechanics and the fact that the environments scarcely change (two stages, the invader's ship and the core of the invader's ship, are almost the same!) and there's far too many similar waves to keep things mixed up and interesting (and oh yes, there's a boss rush! You'd better believe there's a boss rush!).
What's interesting here, however, is what happened afterwards, leading to why I refer to it as a cornerstone moment. Apparently, internally at Taito, Space Invaders: Invasion Day was treated as the poster child of the kind of thing the company never, ever wanted to do with Space Invaders, ever again. After a little while treading water with strange releases like Evolution and Revolution, and more compilations in the form of Anniversary and Pocket, they created Space Invaders Extreme, a combination of classic Invaders action and rhythm gameplay which set a sort-of template for future Invaders releases, focusing on the iconic invader designs but reintepreting them (as in Infinity Gene) or using them as symbols for totally different gameplay (Groove Coaster- the Invaders connection is more obvious in the arcade version titled Rhythmvader for international markets). So, in a way, it's a good thing Invasion Day came out, so it would cause Taito to clear the decks and rethink their approach with their most famous creations. As a game, though, it's really quite bad, and just... Boring. Could've been something interesting, but it's really, really not.
For bringing the Space Invaders kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, Space Invaders: Invasion Day is awarded...
In a sentence, Space Invaders: Invasion Day is...
And now, it's that time, folks!
To end, some miscellaneous notes now, mostly about regional releases and a little unlockable extra.
We really have to start with the game's title, as this is a very weird thing- only the European version actually connects it to Space Invaders! In Japan and America, the game was called Space Raiders (except for the Simple 2000 release, called Simple 2000 Series Vol. 52: The Chikyuu Shinryokugun: Space Raiders) with the only allusions to its heritage being "From the creators of SPACE INVADERS" on the US packaging and the sole unlockable coming in a moment. In Europe, however, the game was given a new title, Space Invaders: Invasion Day, which you might notice is the title we've used. Why? Because, er, we're from the UK in case this had eluded you all this time (pip pip blimey bit dark over Bill's mothers eh pet). As for why Taito changed the name, this is total guesswork on my part but in the UK at least, there's a very well-known brand of cheap snacks called Space Raiders, which have been around since the late 1970s. There's every chance the game was renamed in the EU to avoid confusion... But again, this is an assumption on my part.
Also related to this, each region got a different selection of formats for this one. The original Japanese release was for the Playstation 2 in December 2002, followed by the Gamecube release in January 2003. Europe was the next country to get it in September 2003 but only for the Playstation 2, while America finally got the Gamecube version only, published by Mastiff, in April 2004. Finally, in May 2004, the game got a budget rerelease in Japan for the Playstation 2 as part of D3 Publisher's Simple 2000 Series. Taito let D3 Publisher get their hands on a few games, really- they released double packs in the Simple Series, specifically The Double Shooting: Raystorm x Raycrisis (PS1) and Super Puzzle Bobble DX (a combo of Super Puzzle Bobble 1 and 2 for PS2)- so this isn't an out-of-the-blue thing.
Also, as is required by law in any game related to Space Invaders, you can unlock the original arcade game by holding L1 and R1 then pressing Circle and X on the title screen. It's based on the colour version of the game (so no cellophane or fancy moon background here) and weirdly has a little... Line, thing... Forever rotating clockwise in the corner, as if it's waiting to load or something. It's a little odd. Anyway, if you want the other versions of Space Invaders for your PS2, you're surprisingly well-covered what with Taito Legends, Taito Memories Joukan and Gekan, Space Invaders Anniversary...
This was a weird one to write 'cause on paper I'm sure it sounds like a reasonable game.
You didn't beat this thing four times, reader, that's all I'm saying.
Can we play a good Space Invaders game next time? Please?