Review: Space Invaders 91 (Sega Genesis)

In this review, we repel the invasion in the Sega Genesis game space Invaders 91. We find out how well this top down shooter plays.

This game was released in 1991. This is a game series we have some familiarity with. We previously played the Atari 2600 version. That game got a decent score. We then gave the Atari 5200 version a try. That game got a pretty good score, improving on the previous effort. After that, we gave the SNES version a try. That game wound up being a flop for us. Finally, we gave the Game Boy version a go. That game ended up flopping even more for us. So, we thought we’d see if the Sega Genesis effort is decent or not.

Like previous versions of this game, you take on a grid of gradually progressing enemies. Defeat every alien enemy on the screen and you’ll advance to the next stage. What this game does differently from its 80’s console counterparts is that it changes up the levels. Now, you get a first and second contact. If you clear the second contact, you’ll advance to the next stage. Each stage has its own configurations, art, and even enemies for the most part. So, players do get treated to a certain degree of variety.

To make things more interesting, some enemies require multiple shots to destroy. These often come in the form of aliens in large metal spheres. The sphere will be destroyed in one shot, but the alien inside will require an additional shot to ensure proper elimination. This kind of improvement almost seems like this game is taking a cue from Galaga which features a similar structure (without the circular shield though).

A returning feature is the occasional alien mother ship that flies along the top. Most will simply fly overhead, but some will actually drop down and put on some kind of magnetic tractor beam on your ship. The game is more than playable if this happens, but it just makes movement more difficult as you get a gradual pull in the direction of the landed alien ship. Apart from making it more difficult to evade enemy fire, the alien in question is otherwise completely harmless.

Another novel feature added is the fact that most alien mother ships that fly over not only grant you bonus points on destruction, but also offer power-up items. What that item is depends on the level. Sometimes, it is shields. Other times, it is a powerful laser beam that destroys all enemies in a column. Sometimes, you get heat seeking laser shots.

One way this game breaks apart from earlier efforts to revive this franchise is the use of normal shields. Instead of operating on a one-hit-kill basis, you actually get 5 dots of health. Some shots from enemies take more than one dot of energy, but you will get a maximum of 5 hits before total destruction. The downside is the fact that once you lose your ship, it’s game over. You actually down get free lives here. You’ll get 3 continues (in the form of credits), but that is it. What’s more is that if you find yourself using a credit, your score resets to zero. This makes it a bit more tricky to get a top score in some regards. This concept kind of seemingly comes from Planet Smashers, only there is no way to recharge the shield in this game.

Another interesting feature is the fact that the odd level here and there features uneven terrain. While I only encountered this once in one stage, it does allow for angled shots. It kind of even outs the playing field given that aliens are also capable of angle shots and heat seeking blasts as well.

For me, this is one of those games where, if you have absolutely no other game to compare this to, it might not be that bad of a game. This might be especially so if you are already a fan of this game. The second you begin comparing this to other console games available on the market at the time, that’s when it becomes more difficult to say this isn’t a bad game. Just to give this game a better chance, we’ll list games released the previous year: Captain Skyhawk, Double Dragon II – The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Mega Man 3, Snow Brothers, and Super Mario Bros 3. In terms of gameplay, there really is no comparison. There is so much that was better already on the shelves at the time.

The good news is that this game does try to evolve from what came before it. There is efforts to make it relevant to a more, at the time, modern gamer. The items, shields, varied enemies, varied levels, and even the sloped terrain certainly shows that effort was made. Unfortunately, it seems like a case of too little, too late. Other games released a year earlier are just vastly superior in so many ways such as features, length, and overall playability.

A big problem I have here is the fact that it is such a short game. By the time you reach the half hour mark, chances are, you already have a good idea about all the features in the game. After that, repetition simply sets it. It actually becomes de-motivational to keep pushing through the levels because there are so few differences between levels after you beat the first 5.

Another problem is the relatively stripped down style of play. This might be a big advantage over a number of Atari console games, but it just falls so flat so quickly in the gaming environment of the day. In the end, it only contributes to the feeling of repetition.

After playing this, I seriously have to question if it is even possible to actually push a good modern Space Invaders game. The SNES version couldn’t do it. The Game Boy version flopped. Now, I see this game and, although more efforts to make this game more interesting are there, it still just doesn’t make the grade.

Generally speaking, this game is probably one of the better efforts to revive this game, but it still manages to fall flat. The power-up items and the varied enemies does add to this game, but the simplicity causes it to simply get lost in the crowd of games already sitting on shelves at the time. The fact that play gets repetitive in a half an hour only further hurts this game. While an interesting effort to revive the franchise, it’s, sadly, not enough to make this a half decent game.

One thing I was looking forward to was the graphics. With the power the Sega Genesis boasted compared to other consoles at the time, this game has pretty much every chance at success in this area. Unfortunately, the best aspect of his game is the moving backgrounds. The splash of colour in the backgrounds does keep this game from being completely tacky, but there’s so many better examples of graphics in gaming at the time already. To make matters worse, the contrast of enemy fire and some backgrounds practically make shots invisible half the time. Green on green, for instance, is a pretty bad idea in this case. So, nothing exciting here.

With all of these flaws in this game, the audio is a pleasant surprise. The music is pretty decent and helps make this game not feel like a completely painful journey. So, it is a decent listen. Unfortunately, the sound effects are quite plain. Nothing special in the sound effects, but the music is decent.

Overall, this game may appease people who are already huge fans of the franchise, but once you start looking at the game compared to other games available at the time, it starts looking more and more like a major flop. It isn’t a total loss, though. The added features does mean it is one of the more interesting efforts to revive this game franchise. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough as the simplistic nature and short duration holds it back from getting any kind of success. The graphics have colour contrasting issues and is nothing special otherwise. The music is good, but the sound effects are pretty bland. Overall, if you didn’t play this game, you really didn’t miss much. A game to pass on.

Furthest point in game:
Round 8, 2nd contact
High score: 29,130

General gameplay: 9/25
Replay value: 3/10
Graphics: 4/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 38%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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