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Galaga (Arcade) artwork

Galaga (Arcade) review

"Galaga, or Paying to Die in Space."

Galaga (Arcade) image

Arcades are slowly going the way of the dodo. It's a sad fact, but one with which I've learned to cope. It doesn't hurt that the death of the aforementioned spacious rooms filled with electronic elation hasn't resulted in all of the world's cabinets heading to the junkyard. I still find them occasionally: at laundromats, malls, bars, bowling alleys, lake resorts, and theater lobbies. For that reason, I tend to keep a quarter or two in my pocket at all times. You just never know when you'll open a business door and bump into a familiar face.

Recently, I crossed paths with a coin-op I haven't laid hands on in ages: the fixed shooter, Galaga. I know this sounds cliche, but in that moment it was like the '80s had arrived all over again. I reached into my pocket and found my usual coinage to be MIA. Instinct took over, and I turned to my wife and gave her the same look my mother had to tolerate during my pre-teen years: pleading cow eyes, begging for a couple of coins to pop into the slot so I could commence shooting. Obviously, my spouse gave in.

After hearing the heartwarming jingle-tink of the coin rolling into the cabinet's innards, I braced for battle. Insect-like aliens swarmed the screen, flying in swirly formations and creating dazzling ribbons of color. I didn't allow such pageantry to mesmerize me, though. After the second battalion arrived, I opened fire and blasted a few extraterrestrials to bits. Although the game keeps track of it, accuracy was not a concern to me. I opened fire with all the fury of Keanu Reeves in "Point Break," a strategy that worked just fine.

Galaga screenshotGalaga screenshot

Eventually, my colorful foes progressed beyond their ineffective introduction and formed a massive Space Invaders-like cloud above me, occasionally sending one or two of their warriors to dive bomb whilst dropping projectiles. Little did they realize that I had tight control response on my side, so evading their weaponry and issuing killing reprisals was no trouble at all. With a constant stream of firepower and some smooth moves, I toppled the first wave of attackers without a hitch and warped to the next stage.

Within only a few stages, the situation grew hairier. Now the bugs were dropping loads of bombs during their entry performances, attacking more aggressively in the phase following their intros, and even flying at insane velocities. The game might have been trickier at that point, but survival was still possible. I had to keep a sharp eye on both my opponents and the pellets they dropped while diving toward me. Not only was I apt to inadvertently steer into the projectiles, but the creatures had a tendency to linger in my domain at the end of their descent. This was a real bummer during moments when my attention was diverted, as I often flew into aliens that had rested too long in my personal space.

Such moments also show the game at its very best. You're constantly blasting and dodging, wondering how long you can make the few quarters you possess last. The pace quickens to an exhilarating level that demands the most of your concentration, but it's incredibly rewarding when you endure the intensity and see bonus points racking up.

Galaga can be a vindictive title, though. Eventually, the game's difficulty rating ramps up to the point where you would need to be an arcade wizard just to remain afloat. Once you've stepped out of your comfort zone, survival does become a tad less enjoyable. Sure, you can eventually get acclimated to the boosted challenge factor, but the feeling of stepping into the jaw-jacking realm is quite overwhelming. There are also plenty of moments when you might ask aloud, "How could anyone withstand this?" Sometimes the intergalactic arthropods corner you and pelt you with explosives. Other times, descending wave of bullets might send you careening towards a monster with no possible way to elude death. You can tell yourself that these are fair instances all you want, but you know that you feel cheated.

Galaga screenshotGalaga screenshot

My play through didn't end well, but then, they never do. That's the thing with old school arcade titles: unless you're an absolute pro, you're basically counting down the seconds until a tragedy unfolds. My adversaries were too much for me to handle and eventually exhausted all of my credits. In a flash, I lost my last few lives and entered my initials into the hall of fame. Although my character's journey ended with obliteration in space, I still felt fulfilled. I only hope that in another reality somewhere, my counterpart's interstellar ghost can find solace knowing that I had the time of my life at his expense. His ill-fated mission was a tense, action-packed thrill and a wonderful way to remember the bygone era of gaming. Rest in peace now, fallen space cadet...

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 07, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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SoulforSale posted November 08, 2021:

You would think a game with this type of adulation would receive five stars. It goes down as perfection in my book. It set the standard for shooters. It's impossible to walk by one of these without paying up but it has been a long long time since I saw one in a laundry mat. Great review, man!

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