As I’ve mentioned before, Space Invaders holds a special place in our arcade. It was the first full-size arcade game I ever owned. Taito’s team, led by Tomohiro Nishikado, unleashed Space Invaders on an unsuspecting Japan in 1978 and it is this game that is universally regarded as the video game industry’s first blockbuster title.
Here in the US, Midway Manufacturing quickly snapped up the North American manufacturing and distribution rights. It was Midway’s upright cabinet, with its half-silvered reflective mirror and moonscape background that enchanted me back then. As the arcade craze gained momentum, Taito updated their masterpiece in 1980 and released it in Japan as Space Invaders Part II.
Over the years, I’ve managed to collect my fair share of Space Invaders re-releases, updates, and related ephemera – including Midway’s deluxe Space Invaders upright arcade game. Space Invaders Deluxe, or SID for short, is Midway’s US release of Taito’s Space Invaders Part II – almost, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
As the Midway-released Space Invaders cabinet continued to trail-blaze the US arcade industry, Taito established its US operation as Taito America and released Space Invaders in a Taito-branded and smaller sized cabinet. This cabaret version, called the “Trimline” model, was targeted at businesses that did not want a full-size arcade game. This strategy was also practiced by the leading manufacturers of the day like Atari and Bally/Midway, who also sought to appeal to as wide of a marketplace as possible beyond that of just the arcade owner/operator.
Let’s spin the clock forward to April 2019. A local pinball player and collector reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in a fully working Space Invaders Trimline cabinet. My response: “I don’t think so – I have both Midway’s Space Invaders and Space Invaders Deluxe cabinets.” He asked me what I felt it was worth. I told him what I thought it could sell for, and what I would’ve offered. Armed with that knowledge, we ended our conversation and he set off intending to sell it on Craigslist. The seed had been planted.
Later that night, I started thinking about the game and the smaller Trimline cabinet, and the “collector justification” conversation began: “you know Pete, you don’t have the Taito version of Space Invaders.” The price I’d offered earlier was pretty low, mostly because I didn’t have much interest in the game that I’d probably flip to another collector. The seed grows.
The following day, I shot my pal a text: “I’m re-thinking on the Space Invaders cab.” I asked him if he was still willing to sell it to me at my low offer. I was surprised at the response: “sure – I can do that.” I met up with him later that day and picked up the game. I paid for the game untested, and as we were moving it to my truck, he said: “you know, the marquee says ‘Space Invaders’, but I think it’s ‘Space Invaders Part II'”. Now I’m intrigued – maybe I won’t flip this game after all. During my earlier hasty research on Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II, I read about the scoring and game-play differences between the original Taito and later Midway versions of SI II. I drove the game home, but plugging it in would have to wait until the next day.
In the morning, I did my usual quick survey of the game before plugging it in. Powering it up and waiting for the screen to spring to life, I began to make out “Space Invaders Part II” on the display. It was true: what I had was a Taito-branded Trimline Space Invaders cabinet running Taito’s Space Invaders Part II. Another quick internet search revealed a subtle difference on the marquee artwork that seems to indicate whether the Trimline cabinet is a Space Invaders or Space Invaders Part II. Indeed, mine has the later copyright date and “fuzzy” style invader. Curiously, the marquee for both versions simply states “Space Invaders” with no mention of “Part II”.
I coined up my new game, grabbed the joystick (maneuvering your laser base in the Taito version of SI and SI Part II uses a joystick instead of Midway’s left and right buttons), and played for quite a while.
I’m keeping it.