In the 1980’s, videogames had hit a real golden age. Some of the best arcade games released to date are the reason for this golden era, and despite the various remakes and remasters available on the market, one popular choice is that of Galaga.
Galaga is part of the rarely found fixed shooters genre. Of course, these days we have the popular shooters everyone knows such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, but fixed shooters are something else; they are where it all began. Shooters are categorized by viewpoint and movement in particular, as well as design elements. Fixed shooters restrict the protagonist to a single axis of motion, enemies attack from one direction and gameplay is kept within a single screen. While this may not sound as intriguing as the lavish open-worldly design found in many FPS titles these days, back in the 80’s this game design spawned one of gaming’s most successful shooters to date.
Developed by the highly popular Bandai Namco in 1981, Galaga is a direct sequel to 1979 game Galaxian and was created as a direct competitor to the highly successful and well known Space Invaders. With eighteen official releases over the years – not counting spin off titles – and at least one version of the game showing up on almost every gaming platform in existence, the Galaga series is one of the longest serving videogame series to date. But what is it that keeps Galaga alive? How does a game released over thirty years ago keep the players coming back for more? Can the gameplay really be that good?
The objective of the game is to earn as many points as possible whilst destroying a number of bug-shaped enemy spaceships intent on destroying you any way they can. The player controls a nifty little spaceship of their own which can move left or right along the bottom of the screen. Throughout the game enemies come into play in various choreographed patterns from the sides of the screen before moving into formation at the top, from which the main attack starts. At least in the early stages of the game anyway, as later on enemies will fire upon the player as soon as they enter onto the screen meaning if the players reactions aren’t on point at all times you can quickly find yourself a crumpled blown up mess at the bottom of the screen – and a life down in next to no time.
As soon as all the enemies for that stage have come into formation the attack begins. With random ships breaking off towards the bottom of the screen, firing at the player in order to try and reduce the lives available from three to zero, should your eyes not be focussed on every movement on screen then this will happen very quickly! I had found myself playing against various enemies for the first three hours unable to even beat the fourth level until I finally cottoned on to where each barrage of missiles would land if fired from the different areas of the screen. Only then was I able to frantically whip my ship to the safest part of the screen.
After every few levels Galaga gives a nice little breath of fresh air in the form of a bonus challenge level in which enemies fly onto the screen without firing on the player at all. At the end of the level the hit/miss ratio shows up on screen with a percentage of just how accurate (or not in my case) you have been. The higher the accuracy, the higher the bonus score received. Should you manage to hit every enemy before they escape from the screen then the reward of a 10000-point boost is added to the overall score achieved and with an extra life added upon reaching set scores, the bonus stage comes in very handy.
Just a few levels later however the heat really gets turned up with each stage posing a much bigger threat than the last. This is due in part to the enemies becoming more and more intent on killing the player, even if their own demise is the only way it is going to happen. Enemies think nothing of randomly flying their ship down in a crazy attempt to collide with the player and when there is already a set of missiles on screen headed your way, things can quickly start to feel quite claustrophobic and you will easily find yourself cowering in a corner. On top of this is the inclusion of the mighty Galaga bosses that show up unannounced and these guys offer a slightly different approach to taking you out.
You will find them tucked away at the very top of the screen behind all the other enemies, so taking these out will require some nimble shooting. The boss ships don’t look too different to the normal enemies, other than being a different colour, so anyone not paying full attention could be forgiven for thinking that this is just a usual scrub. However when the boss ships decide to move themselves down for some head to head combat, things can become very difficult. Firstly they will attempt to use a tractor beam to grab the players ship; believe me this is not something you want to find yourself running into as if your ship is taken, one of your valuable lives is taken with it. Of course no one likes a boss that jumps in and ruins a game straight away, so what is in place to make this fair?
Well honestly it’s all down to you and your skill. Should your ship get captured, the boss will fly back to the top of the screen with your ship in hand before sending more of the lower ranking ships after you once more. A simple well timed shot at the boss ship can see the enemy defeated as well as you getting full control once more of your ship, but this time as a new found dual fighter! This transforms your ship into two of the same, side by side, and with double the fire power on offer you would be forgiven for expecting an easy ride for the rest of the game. But this is a Namco arcade game and Namco know just how to make things challenging. With double the firepower comes double the size of your ship and you can quickly find yourself too big to even avoid enemy fire unless you have predicted each and every move with the right timing and precision.
With a huge number of levels included, any players talented or patient enough will be glad to see that Namco have added a nice level select option in to this re-release, enabling an instant restart from any previously reached level. Even with this option turned on I found myself still unable to pass even level 10, whilst even with the other option of five extra lives switched on, it seemed level 11 was the most my Galaga ship – and my skill level – could reach. Admittedly a big part of this is down to my inability to envisage where my enemies’ bullets would land but much of it is quite obviously down to the huge difficulty spike this great game poses. Galaga really is a test of reactions and judgment and without a perfect balance of both you may well find your score unable to even compete with the bottom scores on the leaderboards.
Overall though and Galaga is a great game. With easy to learn but hard to master gameplay and the story swapped out for a test of skill and endurance, there is no surprise that we continue to see re-releases of these classic titles. For a bargain price of just £3.19, there is absolutely no reason to not check out this quality piece of gaming nostalgia for yourself.