Review by Mr. Grieves

Reviewed: 08/07/04

A true classic, through and through.

When walking into an arcade today, it is depressing to realize just how little any of the games actually interest me. In today’s day and age, I can challenge the arm wrestling champion of the world to an intense match for the title of world champion, engage in an brutal dance competition to show off my true skills, or flow across beautiful white water rapids while paddling for my life in a raft. And even with all these attractions, sporting experiences that would have never been possible a few years ago, I walk by without even exposing the slightest bit of interest. Past the man arm wrestling a piece of plastic in a pathetic attempt to try and impress his girlfriend, past the tricked out hippies flailing their legs around madly to a beat as if they could actually carry a tune, and past the couple waving their paddles around wildly as if they are actually doing something productive with their lives. Each one of them more laughable then the next (that goes for the games and the people playing them). And I’m supposed to be excited by these atrocities? Don’t these people have any sense of pride or dignity? Is this really the purpose of an arcade? If I wanted to get screwed out of my money by lame attractions, I’d drop by my sleazy local carnival. I keep on walking, hoping more and more that I come across something that can actually be deemed worthy of a few quarters, but to no prevail. But then, when all hope seems lost, I catch it out of the corner of my eye. There it is, just lying there, basking in all its well earned glory. Sure, it’s lying in the corner of the room, completely engulfed in shadows. Sure, there’s not a person in sight even considering the thought of touching it. Sure, its prepackaged with at least one other arcade game to persuade arcades to keep it in there at all. But in the end, none of that matters, because it’s there. It’s fantastic. It’s Galaga.

Galaga could very well be the best arcade shooter ever, and that’s not a small accomplishment either. For a game to earn such a statement, you know it must have truly ass kicking action, and Galaga has that in spades…and clubs, and hearts, and any other card symbol that is for whatever reason used to describe large amounts of something. Galaga has everything you would look for in an arcade shooter and more. It mixes pure, adrenaline pumping action with highly innovative (for its time) ideas to create an outstanding experience. Tack on the unique and fantastic level design and you’ve got a true classic on your hands. Your mission in the game is simple: to kill everything in sight, and for those of us who enjoy these kinds of games, we wouldn’t have it any other way (if you need a reason to blow things up, then you need to get to an arcade as fast as possible and unload all of those intellectual thoughts that have been building up in your head).

At first appearance, Galaga looks like your standard fare. A vertical screen, a ship crawling up that vertical screen, etc. And well, you’re right. Galaga has all the elements you would expect from the genre, which is a good thing. It certainly remains true to its heritage (games like Galaxian and Space Invaders), which means you might already know what to expect. The concept is simple, but doing so is not that easy. Your alien foes zip across the vastness of space at delightful speed, weaving intricate patterns in their wake. Enemies form groups, spin around in designated lines, dive-bomb at you with relentless speed, cover their leaders in an attempt to block your way, and so on. For its time, Galaga was truly a sight to behold. As your ship sped across the galaxy, a beautiful spectrum of colorful stars glowing in the background and a barrage of enemies hovering in front of you, it was hard not to get pulled in. And while your sucked in by the beautiful scenery (even today, Galaga is still a fairly attractive game, and has aged quite nicely), you might as well shoot down some alien scum. And to much delight, you will find that everything works like a charm. Your little ship glides smoothly from left to right, and shoots with the simple press of a button. All is well here. Likewise, your enemies move just as smoothly. Galaga certainly has the basics down right.

Not to mention the levels themselves. If arcade shooters are works of art, then Galaga is the Van Gogh of them all, and its levels are the paint on the canvas, if that makes any sense. One of the first things you’ll notice is levels don’t just repeat themselves, which was quite an achievement at the time. In fact, that’s one of Galaga’s strongest points. First of all, it’s nice to know you’re not playing the exact same thing over and over, but more than that is the fact that the randomness of it all keeps you on your toes. You can’t just memorize a level pattern and abuse that to master the game. It won’t let you. Levels provide different and unique experiences, and both the enemies and there abilities change over time as well. There’s quite a lot of creativity to be found in the game. You’ll be shocked the first time a crane-like enemy drops down and tries to suck you in with a tractor beam, therefore stealing one of your lives unless you shoot it fast, thus getting extra points. You’ll be exhilarated as a blue alien dives at you and misses as you cleverly swerve to your right, only to watch in horror as the alien makes a circle back and kill you.

But, more than any of that, Galaga’s most innovative feature is beyond a shadow of a doubt its challenge stages. Every couple of stages, a challenge stage will suddenly appear. Enemies spin around the screen, lined up in formations, making circles and zigzags. And while there doing all this, you’ll be the one shooting. You can think of it as target practice if you want. Your goal is to shoot as many as possible, but you better be fast. These lines of enemies won’t be stationary as you try to shoot at them, nor will they hang around for very long. At the end of the stage, you get a score based on how many of them you shot. You get extra points each time you take out a whole line of enemies. This, for its time period, was a extremely innovative idea. It’s a very enjoyable feature in the game, as it is not only a lot of fun, but also a nice breakup from the intense action that the real levels provide.

And with everything coming together so well, it’s only natural that you will feel compelled to keep playing the damn thing. Believe it or not, Galaga excels even here. Its challenge rises at a perfect pace, raising little by little as you progress. This creates the perfect setting for you to pour in your hard earned money. It gives you time to get a hang of things, and then continues to advance and challenge as you complete more and more stages. What this means is that you’ll get some solid gaming time before you start spilling quarters in rapidly. A couple of bucks can go a long way in this game, and you’ll feel rewarded and fulfilled when all that money is gone. And believe me, Galaga will take away your money. Not because its expensive or because it expects you to put money in constantly, but because you will want to keep playing it until all your money is gone. If that doesn’t sound to appealing to your wallet, then well, you’re just going to have to accept it. At the very least, you get more than enough play time and enjoyment to justify any amount of money you can put into it. And hey, if it causes you to pour your precious quarters in time after time, even when you know you shouldn’t be, then it must be doing something right.

But, someone might argue, why would I want to play a game that’s almost twenty five years old? And you can think that way if you want to, but the only one you’d be hurting is yourself. Why should Galaga’s age prevent it from being just as good a game today as it was almost twenty five years ago. In fact, it is in a lot of ways Galaga’s age that makes it great to begin with. Does this statement confuse you? Allow me to explain. Galaga was released in a time when gaming in itself was still young. Still a new and undeveloped frontier. It is my personal belief that if there is a genre that has aged poorly over time, it would be the arcade shooter genre. Not because there is any wrong with this genre, but because it has simply ceased to exist. Even with magnificent companies like Treasure doing their best to uphold this once glorious genre, it is pretty obvious that the genre has for the most part evaporated into the sands of time. With that, and more and more arcade games forgetting their very heritage, that Galaga, is a refreshing break from the norm of glitzy yet unfulfilling arcade games we see today, because it is too old to have been tainted by the poor values of arcades today. It is special because it represents the best of a rarer and rarer genre, has not been spoiled by the disappointing advancements that arcade games have made over time, and is simply just a fun game in general.

And it would be a shame for you not to play it. In a world were millions of arcade games try to simulate one-eighth of an actual experience, fail at it, and then charge you for it, games like Galaga are a reminder of why we visit arcades in the first place: fun. After all, can you really say you had fun the last time you tried out one of these lame machines (I highly doubt you said yes, or else you probably stopped reading this long ago). It is with my parting wish that I ask all of you to give this game a shot if you haven’t already. It deserves every bit of attention you can give it and more. Because in the end ( and this may come as a shock to some people), you can arm wrestle a guy, go out dancing, or go white water rafting. Do we really need a machine to help us pretend were doing it? As I look around arcades today, I see more and more of the like, and it saddens me to see the state these arcades are in and the collision they’re heading for. Who knows, maybe someday things will change. Maybe somebody will look back on the games like Galaga, these pioneers who gave birth to arcades, created them from the ground up, and captured the minds and imagination of all who played them. Maybe this person will decide to try to bring arcades back to the principle that created them in the first place: gameplay. And maybe this person will create a game that captures the magic and brilliance that games like Galaga had. But somehow I doubt it. So I can only hope that Galaga remains in arcades as salvation for another twenty five years.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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