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Space Instigators - The Atari Times

Space Instigators

Cloning a classic arcade game
by Gregory D. George

February 7, 2003
The year is 1978 and Taito has a huge hit on their hands with Space Invaders. The game is so popular that it caused Japan to quadruple it's Yen production because of a shortage of coins. Kids resort to stealing money from their parents in order to play it. (Source: klov.com) Taito makes a fortune on the game.

In January of 1980, Space Invaders is released for the Atari 2600 making it the first ever video game licensed for home use. (Source: icwhen.com: January 1980.) But the game looked quite different from it's arcade brethren! There were fewer aliens which looked very different from the original, the players gun looked different, and there were three tall bases instead of four squat ones!

Why would Atari change the look of Space Invaders so drastically on the 2600? Was it because the original was monochrome and Atari wanted to push the fact that the 2600 was a color machine? (The original used overlays to achieve color.) Did they change the look of the aliens and the gun because they weren't fancy enough? These and other reasons are likely possibilities.

Some 20 years later, Christopher Tumber has written Space Instigators for the 2600 which replicated the look of the original Space Invaders more so than the Atari version. This isn't a hack of the 2600 version of Space Invaders, this is a newly coded game.

Let's tackle the graphics first, since they were the primary sticking point of the Atari version. The aliens in Space Instigators do look and animate more arcade accurate, even if the lowest alien doesn't look much like the original. The spaceship is red again and more elongated and the players gun looks more like the original. I do notice that the colors aren't as vibrant as the arcade and the bases are smaller than the arcade.

One thing that does bother me about the graphics is the complete lack of an alien explosion. When hit, they simply disappear without a trace! Conversely, the gun blows up to a nice animated explosion. The spaceship when hit turns into a "50" signifying the amount you scored for hitting it, which is a nice touch. Finally, the missile graphics are shorter and flickery making them difficult to see.

What about the sound effects? The CyberStella emulator generally does a good job with the sound effects, but I can't help but wonder if the "explosion" effect really sounds like a "snap" instead of a "boom" on the cartridge version. It does have the nice alien marching sound effect and the spaceship sounds accurate zipping across the top of the screen.

The gameplay is good, but very fast! (This is where I need to remember that this is Space Instigators and not Space Invaders.) The aliens march at a breakneck speed and the spaceship is just about impossible to hit. You can demolish the onslaught much faster than you can in either the original or the Atari version. Also the number of aliens is closer to that of the original: 45 versus Atari's 36 and the arcade's 55. 

Finally, we get down to it. Is Space Instigators fun to play? Yes. Is it more fun than the original or the Atari versions? I'd have to say no. While the graphics are more accurate here, they are less interesting than the more colorful, animated, and detailed Atari version. What hurt this game the most was the pacing which is not even close to that of the arcade. Again, since I am reviewing the game from an emulator and not the real game cartridge, some differences might crop up, but I'm confident the quickness of the game is represented accurately by the emulator. 

Still, this is a good effort by Christopher Tumber. A little more tweaking to the pace and it would have been dead on to the arcade. If you're a Space Invaders nut who's always wanted a perfect-looking version for your 2600, you couldn't do much better than Space Instigators. And since it was a game coded from scratch, it's certainly something to be proud of!

Space Instigators has a nice opening screen.
As you can see, Space Instigators looks closer to the original than Atari's effort.
Yellow aliens, a purple spaceship, red bases, and a brown filled ground are the differences here.
Space Instigators
System: 2600
Publisher: Christopher Tumber
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 80%
Gameplay Score: 65%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 70%

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