From my perspective, this was a must-have title on Intellivision. All consoles of the early 80’s needed a Space Invaders clone of some kind. Atari’s Space Invaders cart was a huge seller. We used to go up to our friends’ house to play Space Invaders, so when we got our own version on the Intellivision, I was hooked. I played this game a LOT. I remember getting to the green whirly-gig bombs as a kid, which means I must have gotten to at least level 11. But I know I never got to the point where the mother ship comes down among the other ships to try and ram you (see below).
It’s certainly been commented on elsewhere, but the armada ships just seem to be too large. But they look good – the multi-color aspect is a nice touch that is lacking on the Atari port – and the green alien looking guy has been picked up as kind of a general “retro-gaming icon” of sorts. I’ve always liked the way that debris from a destroyed ship can serve as enough shrapnel to destroy the ship next to it if the ship is moving fast enough to get caught in it. Also, the innovation of allowing you to rebuild your bunkers if you destroy the mothership was very good.
The controls are a bit sluggish. I remember that being true on the INTV unit itself and that problem persists even when you’ve got a nice arcade joystick and/or buttons to use. Positioning the ship/gun exactly where you want it can be frustrating. Also, there is a bit of a delay between button press and the actual firing of the laser/missile. These are things that you can adapt to more or less, but it makes the game seem slow and somewhat clunky. I’m giving this game an arcadeability rating of 3.
So with that, here’s a breakdown of how the game progresses:
The first and second levels. Not much here to write home about. It’s basic Space Invaders kind of stuff.
Starting on level 3 the armada starts dropping a reddish-brown bomb that explodes with a large cloud of energy. If you’re caught in the range of the cloud, you’re dead. So it makes you dodge much wider than you would otherwise.
On levels 5 & 6, the first two rows of the armada are invisible until they shoot. Kinda reminiscent of Star Trek’s Romulans whose ships can’t fire while cloaked. Except in this case, the ships seem to have a one-off kind of cloaking. Once they fire, they can’t cloak again.
Needless to say, this changes things a bit in terms of strategy to beat these boards. You really need to be methodical in how you destroy the invaders (er, armada ships). It’s not overly hard because you have the top two rows to give you visual cues about where the lower ones have to be, but it’s something else to keep track of.
Starting on level 7, the armada has a new bomb to throw at you. It doesn’t look like much in this screenshot, but these little pink bombs follow you around! They’re slow moving, but persistent. At this point, you really need to be paying attention not only to the invisible/cloaked ships in rows 1 and 2, but you also need to be driving these pink bombs into bunkers where they will harmlessly explode. Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to work on destroying a few mother ships at this point to rejuvenate (or in a lot of cases restore to existence) your bunkers.
I remember that at times I was “in the zone” enough to reliably shoot the pink bombs in mid-air and cause them to explode that way. I’m not really playing at that level these days.
Aaaand it was inevitable. Given that the first two rows could go invisible, it’s not too surprising when you get to level 9 and find that all of them are now invisible until they shoot. But man, that really ups the level of difficulty! It’s a good deal harder to remember what you’ve already killed, because the top level guys can go an entire wave without shooting. I’ve lost many a game when an invisible invader landed.
Starting at level 11, the ships lose the invisibility. And it’s a bit of a relief! But they trade that power for a seriously deadly green whirly-gig kind of bomb. It moves fast, heads right towards you, and is a serious killer. As I wrote above, I’m sure as a kid I never got past level 12 due to this menace. Bunkers are becoming the difference between life and death.
Starting at level 13, the mothership that has spent the whole game content to watch from above gets involved. It drops down into the field of play in order to attack and demolish the bunkers! It feels a bit like it is getting its revenge – “Kill me to restore bunkers, will ya! I’ll show you what I do to bunkers!” At this point, it’s seriously distracting because you’d do about anything to get those bunkers back (or repaired), and the temptation to ignore the rest of the armada and chase the mothership is pretty strong.
Here’s a shot of the end of the game I played to get these screen shots. It isn’t a valid high score or anything, because I was saving and restoring the state of the emulator in order to get shots. But still, a pretty good shot of the ship dying in action with the mothership right there as well.
I need to play this game more to see how it behaves starting at level 15. Is this a steady-state? Or does it start mixing things up by bringing back invisibility?
The controls mapping for this game is very simple. For gameplay you really only need left and right movement mapped to E and W on the INTV controller and an arcade button mapped to one of the side action buttons.
The only other controls you need are a way to select GAME or PRACTICE at the start. Those are buttons 1 and 2 on the keypad and those are usually mapped to player 1 and player 2 start on arcade cabs. You need a way to hit ENTER as well, so if that’s not mapped it will need to be. On my cab, arcade.kbd configuration is fine for this game.
How does it compare to the original arcade game?
Space Armada is an obvious clone of Space Invaders. Again, in the early 80’s we all wanted to play arcade games at home, and Space Invaders was one of the biggest games of the arcades (even as late as the 80’s, I remember playing it). Like Space Invaders before it, it’s a little slow in terms of action. As I’ve written above, the controls are a bit sluggish and that makes it feel not as polished as the arcade game.
But I think the additional weapons and tactics (is invisibility a tactic?) of the later waves really make it a better game in terms of sophistication. It has more replay ability than Space Invaders, at least until you get to level 13. Since I know that the game doesn’t vary any more, I don’t know how much more I want to play.
Eh, I’ll probably still fire it up from time to time…