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Galaxian (Apple II) artwork

Galaxian (Apple II) review


"It's hard to imagine an arcade game I hate more than Galaxian. In fact, after completing a couple of levels on an arcade machine(free, no less,) I walked away out of exasperation. The Apple version, however, is patently different. It's faster and more intense, and the aliens swoop maniacally at you. So Galaxian feels more like Galaga than its arcade namesake, though without the memorable bonus rounds. You feel it shouldn't be hard and can vacillate between "this is easy" and "oh no, going to die..."



It's hard to imagine an arcade game I hate more than Galaxian. In fact, after completing a couple of levels on an arcade machine(free, no less,) I walked away out of exasperation. The Apple version, however, is patently different. It's faster and more intense, and the aliens swoop maniacally at you. So Galaxian feels more like Galaga than its arcade namesake, though without the memorable bonus rounds. You feel it shouldn't be hard and can vacillate between "this is easy" and "oh no, going to die" several times in the course of one game.

Galaxian got ported all over the place because its basic idea is easy to duplicate or tweak as needed. You have aliens in a formation at the top of the screen. Instead of as in Space invaders, where they work slowly down, these guys rush horizontally, then dive at you. It may be several at once, or you may be able to pick them off individually. The formation is 2-4-6-6, the 6 being worth the least, the 4 worth more, and the 2 being worth a random bonus if you kill them while attacking. You get an extra ship every 3000 points, or just over every three levels, and at thirty seconds max per level, the game is a succession of quick shootouts.

And it does not try to be too much. Alien Typhoon was Galaxian with more rows and enemies per row, and its action was too slow, with too much entrapment. Galaxian, though, is exciting enough that I remember playing for that 70-win flag, then 80, and wondering what happened at 100. I never quite made it due to mental and physical fatigue(staring, twitchy hands,) but I kept trying much harder at Galaxian than at any other simple game. Taking small advantages and avoiding dumb mistakes are the key to the game, but these require so many split second decisions, the excitement rarely wanes.

Several simple strategies are necessary to get good. I broke my thumb on the joystick and found you really have to put yourself in a position where you can bounce back to the center--yet you still need to stay near the center. You need to position yourself to avoid monsters who sweep down at a sharp angle, but sometimes you need to work between bullets. This is hard without the ability to freeze in place. I think I saw a pirated version of the game allowing keyboard play, but this one has its own strategies.

You obviously want to let the top two arrow/dreidel spaceship dive-bomb you, and you also want to try to kill the little bug-type craft below them at the start of the level. You have to remember how things ended up, and then you can fire away at the beginning. And you can fire after a monster goes off the sides or bottom of the screen. There's always a chance you'll hit them. There's also a good chance you can hit two enemies with one missile when they are in the holding formation, and if you are surrounded, you can often give your life up and kill a few enemies. Even after, you can take just a second to figure how you should've avoided it before lining up to kill other enemies in formation.

There are only six or so different patterns that the enemies can use. You'll figure them out easily enough, but then you need to recognize them and recognize what combinations mean, or how to deal when they fall down to attack at different rates. Enemies are helpless when just above you, allowing risk-takers to try to get the most of the "one bullet at a time" rule. They even start to drop down at random rates. Sometimes a swarm, sometimes one at a time. The level doesn't seem to affect how fast the enemies go, but the fatigue and constant vigilance will probably goad you into a slew of stupid mistakes that place you close to game-over.

All this simplicity has enough variety to make the game worthwhile. The enemies--lower ones purple, upper orange. They look like centipedes head-on and flip vertically to fall down, moving their "legs" left and right to force you to adjust. The random score for in-air boss ships and the flags determining your wins(one of 10-90, then up to 9 small flags) beat a stodgy old level counter. The sound is a gentle engine running, with skidding noises when enemies start chucking missiles. No melodramatic scales. Which is welcome relief from the intense staring needed to be any good at the game.

Which had one last surprise at the end. I emulated my way to 100 wins, and my 90-win flag just vanished. But soon after, at 99000 points, a surprise. An extra guy for each kill, leaving this puzzle: how to score the maximum before rollover, 99990?

It's doable if you're careful--a thoughtful end to a frenetic game. Of course, the puzzle is optional, but it's easy to picture someone missing 99990 and having to try again. And regardless, the player has a lot of spare ships to try again. Sorely tempting, but ruinous for the eyesight. And much more satisfactory than the usual endlessness. I'm glad I saw it. Though I did use save states, so I didn't have to stare too much to get there.

Rating: 8/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (April 08, 2009)

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