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Galaga (Xbox 360) artwork

Galaga (Xbox 360) review

"So it is that we come to a new question: though Galaga has ‘worked’ for many years, how does it fare on the Xbox 360? The answer is that it does quite well for itself, if you’re not expecting anything more than what the game has always been."

There are only so many ways you can twist a vertical shooter to squeeze out great gameplay. Maybe you throw in special weapons that obliterate everything on the screen and render you impervious to attack. Maybe you add special weapons so devastating that a formerly puny ship can suddenly level an entire alien fleet in the blink of an eye. You can toss around colors, chain combos, bosses that fill screens and blankets of bullets that render the background image invisible. Or, you can do none of the above and just focus on manic action.

When Galaga was originally released, that’s all it took. You had a ship, some enemies with simple attack patterns and a score table. Those were the makings of a classic. The setup worked then because there wasn’t much in the way of solid competition, because all people really wanted to do was kick butt and take names. It works now because nothing has changed.

Blowing things to bits is still fun. I like the satisfying ‘poof’ when a ship vanishes from the screen and I like knowing it can’t fire any more bullets at me because it’s nothing but shrapnel. I like weaving between shots and returning some of my own that destroy the enemy fleet and yes, I like watching my score climb with each successful hit. The fewer things that get in the way of that, the happier I’ll be. That’s why I like Galaga: because nothing gets in the way of that.

That’s not to say that this is just another Space Invaders clone. The similarities are obvious, but Galaga takes things so much further. For starters, there are no shields. Remember those annoying blocks that stopped bullets from hitting you but also nullified your own shots? They’re completely gone. Here, you don’t duck and cover. You dodge and you shoot. That’s it. That’s perfect.

Another improvement is the way the enemies aren’t just marching slowly toward you while they shower you with bullets. Instead, they roar in from the sides of the screen, whirl around to dodge your shots, then line up to fire a few of their own before circling back around to dive toward you, kamikaze-style. If you’re the sort who is used to a methodical series of bullet shots that slowly allow you to work your way left-to-right while taking out your enemies, you will die. Bullets don’t fall straight down; enemy fire follows you with surprising precision and forces you to keep moving.

Then there’s the power-up system, which is distinctly perfect. As you play, some enemies will soar down toward the bottom of the screen, then pause to set up a magnetic field. You now can take a risk. If you want to double your firepower, let your ship get sucked into the field, then pull out the next ship in reserve. From there, you can destroy the enemy to regain control of your ship. Doing so will double your offensive power. The downside is that if you time your shots wrong, you’ll accidentally blow up one of your own ships! This is a seriously cool twist on the power-ups we see in so many of today’s games, and it’s so simple.

That’s what Galaga keeps coming back to, really: simplicity. It’s proof that you don’t need the flash of peripheral shots and the huge environmental variety so common in today’s games. Those things become important the minute you make them a part of how your game is played, but Namco never made that mistake. They chose to focus simply on the bullets and it resulted in a game that people have enjoyed for years.

So it is that we come to a new question: though Galaga has ‘worked’ for many years, how does it fare on the Xbox 360? The answer is that it does quite well for itself, if you’re not expecting anything more than what the game has always been. The controller works fine so you can still dodge and weave, bullets and ships still fill the screen so that there’s a challenge, and you can still rack up an insane score if you can just keep your little fighter ship from making contact with enemies and their firepower.

The only real differences are the ones you already expected: leader boards and achievements. Like any other Xbox Live Arcade game, you’ll find a series of challenges that improve your gamerscore. They generally ask you to reach certain stages, or to perform certain duties like doubling up your firepower or clearing a bonus stage without missing a target. You don’t get all that many points for each accomplishment, but they’re addictive enough to keep you playing an extra few hours.

A more pressing reason to keep playing is the knowledge that your friends have the game, too, and they’re doing better than you are. Since Galaga costs the equivalent of $6 to play, you can count on plenty of competitors from around the world and around your “Friends” list. The game is a classic, after all. As has become true of so many Xbox Live Arcade games, this is one gem that only benefits from the feeling of competition. Manic action, competition, explosions… sounds like a winner to me!

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 04, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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