Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Majestic Twelve (Super Space Invaders '91)

I saw a documentary on the History Channel about the Majestic 12 - the alleged code name of a secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials supposedly formed by Harry Truman in 1947 to investigate UFOs following the incident at Roswell, New Mexico. Now whether or not there is any validity to that story is debatable but it gave me an excuse to boot up the ol' MAME cab and finally complete the old Taito arcade game Super Space Invaders '91 (called Majestic Twelve - Space Invaders Part IV in Japan).

Super Space Invaders '91 was released in 1990 - don't ask me why it wasn't called Super Space Invaders '90, I never could figure out why they do that with cars either. It is the third arcade sequel of Taito's 1978 seminal classic behind Space Invaders Deluxe in 1979 and Return of the Invaders in 1985.  Two more arcade sequels would follow - Space Invaders DX in 1994 and Space Invaders '95 - The Attack of the Lunar Loonies in 1995, but '91 might just be the best of the bunch.

Super Space Invaders '91 features the familiar gameplay of the original but with nicely updated graphics and a multitude of new invaders and improved sound effects. The game also introduces several new features to the series including power-ups, bonus rounds, boss battles, and the excellent added option of 2-player simultaneous play to really give it a new twist.

The power ups are dropped from the mother ship crossing the top of the screen if you are able to hit it. Power ups include the Buster Laser (a vertical laser that can vaporize multiple vertical columns of invaders), the Hyper Laser (vaporizes the lowest horizontal row of invaders), Shield Up (strengthens your ship's shields), Arm (creates physical shields like in the original Space Invaders that block enemy shots but you can move them up with your lasers to collide with enemies, Power Up (rapid fire laser shots), Fire Flower (a missile that blows up in a flowery explosion), Destroy Beam (my favorite - multiple bright tracers shoot out and slither rapidly all over the screen destroying everything in site, and Time Stop (a giant butterfly floats onto the screen and all the enemies freeze in time allowing you to blow them away with impunity).

There is a wide variety of invaders as you progress through the levels - complete with different background graphics, and this time the invaders have more attack patterns than the simple left all the way to the end, drop down, right all the way to the end, repeat.  Some invaders widen to twice their original size when you blast them so you have to blast them some more, some split into two invaders, some attack in a circular vortex pattern (kind of like the black hole level in Gorf except with a bunch of them instead of 1 at a time), some dive bomb you, some disappear into the right side of the screen and reappear on the left side of the screen, and some break away from the pack and conduct their own separate pattern.

You no longer blow up from a single shot, your ship is equipped with shields that can absorb several shots before you explode. And unlike the original game, if the invaders reach the bottom and land on earth the game isn't over, you just blow up and lose a man.

There is also an enjoyable little cattle mutiliation bonus round where flying saucers abduct your cows for their damnable alien experiments and you have to blast the saucers without accidentally hitting your bovine buddies. If you manage to shoot the saucer without blasting the cow he oddly floats safely back to the ground for bonus points.  Extra points are earned the higher in the sky the saucer is when you hit it. This little bonus level plays a lot like the old 1980 Namco arcade game called King & Balloon.

This version also adds several boss battles - I think there were 4 different ones (damn - I should've kept better notes). The bosses looked different but the fights were all pretty much the same - avoid their fire and shoot them in their small vulnerable spot which was intermittently open to fire.  The bosses were not that difficult to beat but like the cattle mutilation bonus round provided a nice break from the regular invader blasting.

Co-op play adds a whole new dimension to the franchise to try and keep the gameplay as fresh as possible. Co-op shooters are one of the few arcade games that my wife actually enjoys playing with me so we joined forces to complete the game.

After we completed the arcade version I tried out a few of the ports - Super Space Invaders was also released on the Master System, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Game Gear, XBox, PlayStation 2, and PC (as part of the Taito Legends 2 compilation on the last 3).

The nice thing about these gallery shooter games, they translate well to a variety of systems.  The Master System version included a nifty little introduction where a communique was being transmitted to you from Central Space Command (or whatever it was called).  It played very well and was pretty true to the arcade version.

For some reason the Speccy version decided to make the background the same color as the invaders which gave it a monochrome look. Maybe this was done due to technical limitations, but it made it a little difficult to see all the invading going on.

The Amiga version was particularly solid - staying true to the arcade version but also including additional animations and storyline details before, during, and after the game that weren't on the original arcade version. Oh, and the Amiga introductory theme song is pretty cool too - it incorporates the game sound effects into the song.

Now, this is a Space Invaders game, so the gameplay does get repetitive after a while, but all-in-all this is a solid facelift to the age-old classic and I've come back to it on several occasions. For me the original arcade game is the definitive version and I'd rate it a 7.9.

I couldn't find the official arcade machine record high score, but according to Twin Galaxies, the high score for Super Space Invaders '91 on MAME (without continues!) is 382,290 by Brandon Y. LeCroy. My best effort so far without continues is only about half that.

If you like vertical gallery shooters like Space Invaders, Galaga, etc. and get a chance to play one of the versions of this game I suggest you check it out.

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Mik said...

Whoa, lazers! I used to have a lot of fun in Space Invaders Extreme when my ship could unleash that big ray!

Really nice coverage MP, you should write about Galaga versions as well!

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Mik!

Yeah - unleasing the death ray and frying a whole bunch of them at once is strangely satisfying.

I almost bought a used copy of Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP a year or ago but didn't. I bet I would probably like it.

Hmm... Galaga - an all-time classic worth covering!

Fallguy40 said...

What's Galaga?

I keed!, I keed!

Mik said...

You should definitely buy Space Invaders Extreme: it made me scream, swear and jump in anger, but was funny as hell!

And don't forget to give a shot to Galaga 3/Galplus: it deserved much, much more attention!

MadPlanet said...

@Fallguy40: You're a wild and crazy guy! Not an obscure title to be sure, but have you ever heard of Gaplus that Mik mentioned? Galaga's lesser-known cousin.

@Mik: I just might snag SI Extreme after all. But I might get it on Xbox Live instead - I played a brief demo of it and it was pretty enjoyable.

I'm surprised you've even heard of Gaplus. I've mentioned that game to a few people when the subject of Galaga came up and they didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

@both you guys: The real question here though is - how do you pronounce Galaga? Is it GaLAga in a fashion similar to Galaxians it's predecessor? Or is it GAlaga like galaxy? I always said GAlaga.

Fallguy40 said...

I've always pronounced it GALaga, but if you look at the title, it looks like there is an accent on the 2nd syllable which would be gaLAga.

I've played the demo of space invaders extrem on the PSN. I would pretty good. I've thought about buying it.

You got me. I've never heard of Galplus.

Fallguy40 said...

Wow, my typing sucks!

MadPlanet said...

Silly Fallguy - you know good and well that PSN has been permanently taken offline. Did you hear there was even more hacking when they relaunched? And then even some MORE after that????!!! Ridiculous.

Holy shit! I never noticed that little sparkle of light glinting of the A in Galaga could be interpreted as an accent! Nice spot FG! OK this next Galaga post is really starting to shape up in the bowels of the SI '91 comments.

MadPlanet said...

Wait a minute. I pulled up the Galaxian marquee and it has a similar sparkle of light reflected off the I.

So does that mean it's pronounced galaxIan? Like interstellar actor GalaxIan McKellen? or the creator of Space James Bond, GalaxIan Fleming? That can't be right. Perhaps the sparkle is just a sparkle after all. Hmmm....

Fallguy40 said...

You mean you DON'T call it GalaxIan?

Mik said...

Well, being italian and all I can't really tell I can spell Galaga correctly. Following our phonetic rules, it sounds like "gaˈlaːga" (and that's how I call it), but given its japanese root it should be "gaɾaŋa". Guess it doesn't matter, though.

Oh, and the friend I mentioned months ago (the one with the arcade room in the basement) has amongst others a multigame cab, with many classics from 80's including Galplus. Given my love for Galaga, I couldn't help but try it, and every time I pay him visit I must put a quarter or two and enjoy that wonderful sequel.

Mik said...

(oops, it's actually "Gaplus", as you correctly stated. That multigame cab shows it as "Galaga 3", anyway)

MadPlanet said...

Gaɾaŋa eh? Well it sounds like you pronounce it the same way FG and I do anyway. I have heard it pronounced a few different ways though. I guess since it is not a real word and was invented by Namco they would be the ultimate arbiter on the correct pronunciation which probably would default back to the default Japanese as you state.

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen a REAL dedicated Gaplus machine either. Just on multicabs. You probably tried Galaga '88 too then I bet. Always liked that one myself.

Mik said...

I loved Galaga '88, I have a picture somewhere my friend took while I was playin' it on a beautiful japanese cab (y'now, those white machines with vertical screen). I'll show it to you as soon as I can find it!

MadPlanet said...

Cool - I'd like to see it!

Mik said...

There you go!

Unfortunately it's not a great pic, and my sideburns don't help either :)

MadPlanet said...

Are you kidding? The 'burns are the best part man! Rock on!

gnome said...

Just dropping in to praise this glorious post, that finally let me see the beauty of Super Space Invaders on the Speccy!

MadPlanet said...

Hey Gnome c'mon in and stay a while! The Speccy version was the most visually unique with each level having its own color, but it was a little hard to see the invaders since everything was the same color as the background

MadPlanet said...

Oh and thanks for the praise kind sir!