Oh blimey, you will not believe the massive headache we had deciding on what to name this one. Anyway, of the names- for those keeping score, that's Space Invaders 90 in Japan, Space Invaders '91 in America and just Space Invaders in South America- we went with Space Invaders 90. This is to keep things as clear as possible because there's another game sometimes called Super Space Invaders '91 that we'd like to talk about another time. Another problem was the screen size- if you lop the borders off, you get a really weird resolution and it looks like it should be stretched out when you play it on a CRT... But owning a real copy of Space Invaders 90, my writer drone can confirm no, it just really looks like that on real hardware and a crappy aging CRT. Just like the good old days!

So, Space Invaders is a series we've mentioned a fair few times on this site, for some reason. There's some pretty interesting games in that series, you know! However, so far, beyond the mistake that is Space Invaders: Invasion Day, we've not really looked at the 'core' games, just the Taito references in one version, a weird collection and a ridiculous spin-off, we've not really looked at, well, an actual traditional game in the series. We're changing things up a little today, sort-of, as we're looking at an instalment that is decidedly more normal Invaders-fare, but it might be one you're not familiar with- the Mega Drive exclusive Space Invaders 90. I certainly wasn't aware this one existed, for the simple reason that most of Taito's Mega Drive output never reached Europe outside of a few oddities like James 'Buster' Douglas Knockout Boxing (a port of Taito's Final Blow) and their Flintstones game. However, this came at a time that the Invaders were on the move again- in the early '90s Taito were intent on updating the Space Invaders formula for the new decade including a full-on arcade sequel, Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV (confusingly called Super Space Invaders '91 outside of the US and Japan) that would get a couple of ports, the PC Engine game Space Invaders; Fukkatsu no Hi and a new port of the original game for the Game Boy (yes, the one that would be released years later in the West and contain the SNES game Space Invaders: The Original Game on it). Lots of Invader projects around at this time, then! We'll get to some of the arcade sequels another day, but today let's have a look at this console-exclusive entry.

If you've played a video game, ever, then you know what to expect here- the Invaders are here causing trouble, and as one lone pilot you have to blast them out of the sky before they reach the bottom of the screen, getting faster and faster as you thin out their ranks. Let's get specific with what this iteration does differently right away, then. It's worth noting that Space Invaders 90 was one of the first Space Invaders games made specifically for a home console rather than a port of an arcade release. The very first home exclusive was the already-mentioned PC Engine-exclusive Space Invaders: Fukkatsu no Hi (which included a recreation of the arcade original as well as a new game, Space Invaders Plus) and it's interesting to look at how each game adapts Space Invaders with a horizontal monitor rather than the traditional vertical one. Fukkatsu no Hi tackles this problem by making the game's sprites small, scaling things back so it can fit the standard Invaders five by eleven formation comfortably without cramping things. 90, on the other hand, goes the opposite way, as while stages have different formations of enemies including some that make words and patterns, taking a look at any stage that uses the five by eleven format shows that while they managed to fit that amount in, the sprites are a lot bigger, taking up far more screen real estate and as a result they begin each wave a lot closer to the bottom of the screen.

Immediately this changes the feel of the game- it's a lot more claustrophobic from the start, something that's made even more obvious with the rounds that have rows moving in opposite directions so they'll hit the side and inch closer to the player much quicker. Prioritising whether to thin out the invader hordes horizontally or vertically first becomes a much more vital consideration here than in other games. Adding to this is the lack of barriers (a trait in many '90s Invaders games) but this game doesn't have the classic four shields available even as a power-up, with the best you get being a couple of different ship-attached, time-limited shields. The one real courtesy to the player is each life has five hit-points before you explode and more lives and shields can be picked up, but overall you will feel the oppressive alien hordes breathing down your neck from the off. This certainly makes the game more challenging but I'm a little divided on it, partly because of the way the invaders fight back at you now- single-shots are one thing to deal with at such close range, but the homing shots and two-way fire the invaders start utilising as you get further into the game become a little too much, especially since homing shots take away two shields instead of just one. Still, the shot types are something missing from Majestic Twelve for the most part outside of boss fights which is something in this game's favour- it doesn't have as many bullets on-screen as Majestic Twelve but it does its best to make up for it.

So that's the basic format, but what bells and whistles have they added here? In this regard, it feels like a missing link between 1985's Return of the Invaders and 1990's Majestic Twelve as it takes the variations on the invader formations, power-ups (dropped by shooting down motherships passing by overhead) and different enemy types from Return, but misses out the boss battles and bonus stages of Majestic Twelve and has only two rounds per background instead of three. Probably the most interesting change-up unique to this game is the addition of terrain obstacles- some rounds have meteorites that block shots, stalactites that you can shoot down for bonus points (but don't let them hit you on the way down), uneven ground that makes you shoot at a 45-degree angle, even space junk that temporarily blocks your movement after being shot down. I thought some of these ideas were particularly clever and it's a little surprising that not many other Invaders variants picked up on them (although you can leave the invisible invaders that show up much later in the game in here, don't need that). There's a couple of other additions too like extra invaders that sit themselves in the corner and use a tractor beam on you to interfere with your movement and invaders that need to be shot twice, so there's certainly an attempt at adding variety.

Generally, these are mostly fine additions but there's definitely a few weaknesses in their implementation. I think one major stumbling point here is that while Space Invaders 90 does take the idea of mixing up the arrangement of the invader formations, it doesn't really do much with it in terms of the movement or actions of the space weirdos. As an example, Return of the Invaders had waves where the invaders would circle around the playing area and ones where they'd descend straight down rather than shimmy from side to side, but there's nothing like that here, the closest being the waves where different rows move in different directions. It doesn't help that as you get further into the game, invaders that need two shots to take out become increasingly common and drag things out a little. Add in the fact that each round's two waves are basically the same except for the invaders starting closer to the ground and occasionally using homing shots and it does feel like they could've done more with the concept which is a bit of a shame. Taking a quick look at the power-ups, there's actually way more of them than in other Invader games, including multiple shield types, shadow-clones of your ship for multiple shots, speed-ups and even homing shots that show a little reticle but you also barely get to utilise them- the first mothership to pass by will always drop one but the second will only give points and then no more appear. Later Invaders games may have less items but they appear more frequently so you'll actually get to use the darn things!

Still, there is one thing that might make fans of these games perk up and that's the fact that, in a strange way, Space Invaders 90 feels like it's supposed to be a game for experts, well-seasoned Invaderheads. It's not just the claustrophobic, cramped atmosphere of the game and the more advanced shot types the aliens have either, there's some weird little foibles with this one that almost feel like trick-play additions. A few examples include only starting with one life before having to use a continue, a 10000 point bonus- a third of the way towards an extra life early in the game- available if you end the round having fired the same number of shots as the total number of invaders (i.e. you can't cancel out any shots with your own), a shield-replenishing trick that's poorly-explained in the manual but clarified by the cheat listing on Wazap! where using a special weapon from the first half of a round to wipe out the middle of the formation in the second half maxes out your shields at ten (!)... The classic Rainbow Invader trick returns too if you can pull it off! This is definitely something that'll appeal to players who've played a lot of these games and want something more of a challenge to aim for, it's just a shame the rest of the game isn't perhaps as strong as it could be.

The last thing to mention is the presentation which is a little hit-and-miss. The graphics are not great unfortunately- the enemy sprites may be big and somewhat detailed but the designs are pretty bland and nondescript and the game has a really drab, muddy colour palette overall. There's some neat backgrounds here and there but it almost feels like you have to crank the brightness up to really make anything out which is a bit disappointing, plus you'll be seeing a few repeats. However, the amazing soundtrack is a real treat with a selection of both pumping beats to bust invaders to and slightly slower, more haunting melodies to consider the horrific vastness of space to. It's certainly a soundtrack that flexes the Mega Drive's FM synth capabilities more than you'd expect, and credit definitely needs to go to the sound driver, credited to Cube and the mysterious Douygen Shibuya. It also has a pretty big name attached to it for composing duties too, Noriyaki Iwadere in his early years before moving on to series like Lunar, Grandia and Langrisser (he's not listed in the staff credits, but both this and Space Invaders: Fukkatsu no Hi are listed on his now-unavailable English website). Definitely an unexpected high point for the game.

In conclusion, this feels like a pretty decent attempt at bringing Space Invaders to a home console, but for the good ideas it has, it feels like it's still lacking a little in other areas. This honestly feels like a game for people who want a real challenge compared to other Invaders games with its oppressive and imposing feel with the enemies being so close to you pretty much at all times and their varied, relentless attacks, and the soundtrack is a highlight for sure. However, the very meager item drops you get (the number of items you get, not the variety of items), the lack of variety in enemy movements and boss fights (even Return of the Invaders had boss fights in the form of secret Challenging Stages!) and the somewhat dull visual presentation kinda hurt the game. Personally, I guess I lean more towards the arcade sequels at least partly because they give you space to breathe while still providing a good enough challenge, and while they may be missing some features seen here that I wouldn't have minded to see (especially the hilly terrain), those games are generally where I live. Still, Space Invaders 90 has somewhat been forgotten due to only being released on a single console with no easily-available rerelease (stay tuned for more on that) so if what I've talked about here sounds interesting, it's certainly one of the better games Taito put out on the Mega Drive, even if that's not a high bar to clear (poor ThunderFox!). And hey, at least it's not just a port of the original game like the SNES got, eh?

For bringing the invaders from space to home consoles, Space Invaders 90 is awarded...

In a sentence, Space Invaders 90 is...
Completely fine.

And now, it's that time, folks!

Beyond the title change, there's one major regional difference, as documented first by The Cutting Room Floor.

The final round has different formations in the both waves of the final round depending on the language.

The Japanese version has the Invaders form a scrunched-together spelling of INVADER 90 in Katakana.

The US version replaces this with the Invaders spelling out INVADERS instead. Cute.

Wave your mouse over the images to see the US version!

... Oh, I guess the title screen also says Push Start Button in the Japanese version and Press Start Button in the US one.

The legal text changed too. That's exciting, right?

Also on The Cutting Room Floor are some basic cheat codees:

To enter the Sound Select screen, on the title screen press A + B + Start together then Right, Right then Down.

To enter the Round Select screen, on the title screen press A + C + Start together then B, A then C.

However, you can't select the 18th round as it only goes up to Round 17, plus you can only pick the first contact (wave) of each round.

There is exactly one rerelease of Space Invaders 90, and I can't even show it to you.

For completely infuriating reasons, Taito collections in the Switch generation felt it necessary to include pre-order bonuses, but not just any kind of pre-order bonuses, oh no. As an Amazon Prime Day-exclusive, the Japanese version of Space Invaders Invincible Collection for the Switch included a DLC code for Space Invaders 90. I can't even find footage of this version being played on the Switch but if the rest of the collection is anything to go by, it has scanlines and screen resizing options plus fully-customisable controls and five savestate slots. Unlike the Game Boy version of Sagaia which was included in international versions of Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade when it too was a pre-order bonus, Space Invaders 90 cannot be found in the international version of Space Invaders Invincible Collection. One of many transgressions I will never forgive Strictly Limited Games for. At least we got Space Cyclone out of the deal, I guess. Still, GB Sagaia eventually got a stand-alone eShop release in Japan, so I live in hope it'll show up eventually...

Don't you worry, there's plenty of other Space Invaders games to cover in the future.