If the presenters of Blue Peter in 1978 (in case of unexpected interest, that's Lesley Judd, Simon Wenner, and Simon Groom) had decided to bury a time capsule in the Blue Peter garden, it would be just about time to dig it up. Having been interred by middle-aged, average-looking, cardigan-wearing personalities in the late '70s, it would now be getting disinterred by their handsome, oddly muscular, twentysomething counterparts in the gently aging third millennium.
Designed to convey the mood of the time, its contents might include such relics as merchandise from Star Wars, a Casio calculator, a Barbie doll, perhaps a yo-yo, a Slade record, and – more than likely – something to do with Space Invaders.
There can scarcely be a more influential or iconic game. Its reputation is so pervasive, so utterly seared into the world's collective retina, that a description of the gameplay seems almost unnecessary. It'd be like explaining to diners in a restaurant that food is something we put into our mouths and swallow. However, it's always a good idea to separate the reputation from the object. Even major stars should have to audition. So, at the risk being obvious, here goes.
The object of Space Invaders is to destroy the eponymous, strangely bestial craft that descend from space in slow spasmodic waves. As you pick off the invaders the surviving ships get incrementally faster, and if they make it all the way down to the bottom of the screen, it's game over. There are some block-like fortifications between you and the enemy, but these gradually disintegrate in the crossfire. From time to time a flying saucer spins across the top of the screen, and if you manage to hit it you get points. And…
Actually, no. That's everything.
As with many early arcade games, there's no way to actually beat Space Invaders in the narrative sense. As the levels progress, the craft shuffle faster and faster until it becomes impossible to destroy them all. Success isn't about beating the game, but holding defeat at bay for as long as you can. The winner is the one whose three-letter name is perched above the rest of on the high-score table.
If there's something depressing in the idea of a game that always overcomes you, it's important to view Space Invaders in its proper context. The rules of video game design hadn't even begun to take shape when it appeared. All games took place in arcades, and their sole purpose was to inhale as many coins as possible from the pockets of the eager youngsters who queued up to play.
So Space Invaders is not a game. It's a retro game. The reason that retro games work so well on mobile is that the demands of mobile gamers and those of arcade owners in the late '70s are the same: the game should be quick to pick up yet tricky to 'beat'; disposable, yet impossible to put down. Space Invaders was made to embody these principles.
Space Invaders 25th Anniversary Edition on the mobile does contain a few added extras of vintage appeal. You can browse through some fairly high quality images of the promotional material, character art, and programming information from the original game, and the graphics are preserved more or less pixel for pixel.
However, playing it now – as with all unadorned retro games – can be a hollow experience, particularly on the mobile. After all, it belongs to the most distant era of video game's evolution, and the medium has somewhat improved since then. Just because it's wise for mobile developers to adopt the principles of retro arcade gaming, that doesn't imply that it's a good idea to reproduce them without refinement. Doing so, and expecting the product to compete with modern titles, is a bit like pitching the armies of Napoleon against those of George W Bush. However awesome Napoleon was in his day, he's French toast.
One might argue that Space Invaders is purely a vintage piece, like a museum exhibit, and should be preserved as such. However, the nostalgic appeal is inevitably injured by the absence of a cabinet and a greasy joystick, and savaged further in this particular version by the inexplicable inclusion of the soundtrack from Bubble Bobble, note for note, where it plainly doesn't belong.
The result can therefore only be mixed. On the one hand, the special features are thoughtful and welcome. On the other, the game itself is a bit of a dinosaur, and unless the presenters of Blue Peter circa 1978 bundled you into the time capsule along with everything else, you've probably played it a million times already.