“Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
-President Whitmore, Independence Day
So a funny thing happened to me on the way to see a movie today (it was Independence Day: Resurgence, but that’s not only irrelevant, it hardly bears mentioning as the movie was “ugh”). I walked into the air conditioned theater and did something I haven’t done for a long while: I strolled into the arcade. It’s hard to find a neon paradise like this nowadays.
But I said to myself, “Don’t they have any real games here?” I swear it was all just shooters and FPS’s, the lame kind that are cheap movie marketing ploys. Where are the pinball machines? Where are the tournament fighters? Where are the 8-bit classics? But, lo! Amid the flashy, modern plastics and flat screens flashing images of Terminator, Aliens, and Batman was a single arcade cabinet standing all by itself. It was easy to miss for its muted colors and motionless, unlit, painted images. It was a combo Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga cabinet.
Having some time to kill as I awaited the arrival of friends, I deposited a few quarters to convert them to tokens (those are special monies only for the arcades, kiddies) and I played a little bit of Pac-Man and a little bit of Galaga, which inspired this review today.
Now while I’ve never been good at Pac-Man, and only made it to the third stage, I was pretty good at Galaga in the past when my local Chuck E. Cheese introduced a younger me to the game. Today, I made it to the twelfth stage before having my interstellar booty handed to me by the hideous bug alien hordes. I was a little proud of myself but the other eight-year-olds in the arcade didn’t applaud. Too busy with Guitar Hero.Hailing from the golden age of gaming, Galaga is a fixed space-shooter from Namco, published by Midway in North America. As one of the most ported and remade arcade games ever, Galaga may be instantly recognizable even for folks who have never actually played it. Galaga owes much of its design to the earlier Space Invaders but it became iconic in its own right, spawning its own sequels (one of which was released in 2015). It’s appeared on systems ranging from the Atari 7800 and Game Boy to the Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo 3DS. Simply speaking, it is one of the hallmarks of the world of video games.
After dropping in your token, you take the helm of a starfighter which can move left to right and shoot “up”. You are soon confronted by an armada of insectoid aliens. These enemies both shoot at you and attempt to crash into you as they swoop in from off screen and take their formation. Your objective is to destroy as many of them as possible by shooting them out of existence. The version I played had rapid-fire where I could just hold the button down to continuously unleash missiles. Other editions I’ve played in the past lacked this feature, making the game much harder with tiring button tapping.
Once every bug alien enemy is annihilated, your starship can move on to the next stage. Galaga is a points based game so achieving a high score is key. You’ll also be rewarded with extra ships for collecting enough points. But the game gets tougher quickly as the stages crawl on with enemy ships getting much faster and more daring in their dive-bombing.
Galaga serves as the sequel to Galaxian, an older space-shooter from 1979. It improves upon the base concept from Galaxian in several ways. Galaga includes a “challenging stage” like a bonus level between every few stages. These special stages give you the opportunity to rack up more points if you can shoot down rows of enemy ships flying in formation. There’s a whopping 10k point award if you can blast every ship in the challenge.
Galaga has a higher rate of fire than its predecessor, Galaxian, and it also includes enemies armed with a tractor beam. If you get trapped in the tractor beam, you have a few seconds to shoot your way out. If you still fail to escape, text will read “Fighter Captured” and your ship gets taken up and becomes a part of the enemy horde. With you next starfighter (provided you had an extra life) you can either blow up the previously captured ship or free it. If you manage the latter, the prisoner starfighter falls down and links up with your ship for awesome dual-shooting action. It’s a double-edged sword, though. You have twice as much firepower but now your ship(s) occupy twice as much space. You’re a bigger target for enemy drones.
I’m not sure why you’re fighting off these endless waves of aliens. Maybe that was provided in some manual or developer interview somewhere, but it wasn’t explained anywhere that I’ve ever heard of. Does it really matter? The entire history of cinema has shown us that space-faring races of bug aliens are never, ever friendly.Don’t try to tell me that E.T. would’ve been just as endearing if he looked like a gigantic space-roach…
The 8-Bit Review
Perhaps it should be said as a reminder that we grade video games primarily against their competition and context from their relevant time period. Whether an element of the game has become timeless or iconic, popular or revered is secondary. In the case of Galaga, it should be remembered that this came out in 1981. That’s the same year that Donkey Kong, Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man came out.
Games of this era typically used static, black backgrounds with colorful sprites and objects set over that (which helped inform our color scheme here at The Well-Red Mage, just so you know). Galaga muscled its way above the competition in terms of graphics because of one simple reason: its scrolling background. The alien ships may be fast and nimbly animated, but the stars sweeping past beneath your fighter gave Galaga a sense of motion and therefore activity that many other titles from the period flat out lacked. No wonder Galaga was so popular in the arcades of the early 80’s.
Time period can’t save Galaga here. Other games opted for simple but catchy music but Galaga has virtually none. Well, there’s a quick fanfare played at the start of the game, and not much else. What of sound effects? A few pew-pew-pews and some high-pitched warbling round out the sore lack of auditory pleasure. Sure, it’s less annoying than other early 80’s video game sounds but that’s because there’s so little of any sound at all in Galaga, and what’s there isn’t impressive in the least.
Galaga must’ve been popular for a reason. That reason was gameplay. It was challenging, fast-paced and rewarding for the skilled player. You’ll need some pretty godlike reflexes to survive Galaga’s armadas of space-bugs. The beauty is the developers chose not to add too many new features or enemies as the game’s stages crawl on and on. The experience may bleed together and become a little boring for it, but this means that you won’t be killed so much by surprises so much as the steadily increasing demands of the same obstacles over and over again. Most of the bugs follow movement patterns depending on their “species” so it’s your own dang fault if you get hit. It’s the perfect control for putting your shooting skills to the test.
And because the game is points based, there’s an easy metric right there to measure how successful you are at the game. Points-bragging is something that went out of style with the arcades but I do remember thinking that the people whose initials were immortalized next to those high scores must be superhumans. Points matter tremendously in Galaga as the more you get, the better chance you have of earning an extra life. Therefore, blowing away as many of the aliens as fast as you can, especially in the bonus levels, is something the game motivates you to do.
Oh and of course the dual-linked ship innovation is still one of the coolest things ever!
As mentioned, little changes occur as you progress through Galaga’s stages and you’ll be killed not from enemies you’re unfamiliar with, but by aliens you’ve fought since stage one which simply got more aggressive and poked a hole straight through your starfighter arrogance. It kept Galaga immensely accessible, having the stages as uniform as they are.
The difficulty does ramp up pretty quickly. I’m not sure how many levels there are in Galaga to this day as I’ve never come close to finally beating the game, especially in the arcade. I might’ve sunk $20 worth of tokens into this space-faring adventure and still not have completed it. It’s actually surprised how fast the enemies move so soon into the game. By the time I died around stage twelve today, the aliens were streaking in from the sides of the screen and immediately starting to try to crash into me as they dropped down their volleys of missiles. At least one “Are you frickin’ kidding me?” slipped out.
Galaga is designed with eating your money in mind. Maybe that’s what those bug aliens are after. Mars doesn’t need cheerleaders. They want your pocket change! It’s easy to sink a few quarters into Galaga just to see how far you can get, or just to try to beat your own personal record.
As a sequel, Galaga isn’t wholly unique while being distinctive. And the way it wears its Space Invaders influence on its sleeve means that I can’t really give it too high of a score in this area. However it should be said that there is enough innovation, pace, tension and challenge in Galaga (some other shooters really drag) that it gets a decent number for Uniqueness, nonetheless.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Galaga became an arcade smash hit and a legend. It’s not hard to see why. It picked one thing to do and do well and it stuck with it. There’s not too many flashy things about Galaga but it serves as a great example of what arcade gaming was like around the outset of the 80’s: tense, competitive, challenging and simplistic. I’m assuming most readers at the youngest in their late-twenties have somehow, somewhere played Galaga, but if not, it’s worth trying your hand at this piece of history.
If I see it in an arcade, I’m still somehow drawn to it. I remember there used to be a restaurant in my town with a small arcade that had a Galaga cabinet and a few other, more modern choices, but it was still Galaga that drew me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to have to deal with complicated gameplay. Maybe it’s because I knew what Galaga was about and what it offered. Maybe I knew I couldn’t go wrong with it. Or maybe it’s because I just wanted to go on a bug hunt.
Aggregated Score: 7.5