Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Galaga (Namco)

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Just as America was tapering off from “Pac-Man fever” (we were obsessed with Pac-Man in the late 70s), arcade powerhouse Namco unleashed Galaga on us.  While it was quite popular and generated plenty of income for Namco, Galaga has always been the counterpart to the Pac-Man series that wasn’t as lucrative – it’s often bundled together with Ms. Pac-Man in re-released cabinets.  That’s not to say that Galaga doesn’t have its rightful place in American history, these days it’s more popular with my friends (and in bars, no less) than more traditional arcade staples.

Some may not know this, but Galaga is actually a sequel of Galaxian, which was released a year earlier in 1980.  Galaxian was basically a clone of Space Invaders that improved on the formula by featuring full color graphics versus the two colors of Space Invaders and had the enemies drop in pattern formations from different parts of the screen.  It also removed the barriers at the bottom.  Galaga updated the formula even more by allowing the ship to fire more than one bullet at a time, awarding bonus points for clearing stages and had an enemy that could capture your ship.  If your ship was captured you would lose a life but it would remain in possession of the thief until you destroyed it, at which point the ship would join your current one and you could fire with two ships.  This becomes a tactic that those in the high score world tend to take advantage of, although I’ve met a few that prefer to keep their ships out of alien possession.

Like other Namco property Pac-Man, this title features some coding glitches that allow the player to stop the enemies from firing at you as well as freezing the machine when the level count loops from level 255 to level 1.  It has a wide gap of pop culture references that start with the inclusion in the movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick and Galaga is the name of a sub in the series Lost, which the writers admit to playing frequently at the office.


Too many to count.  Okay here we go: Galaga appeared in faithful ports on the Atari 7800, Famicom/NES, MSX, Sega SG-1000 (early version of the Master System), Virtual Console (NES version), Xbox Live Arcade (arcade port), mobile phones and it even popped up as a game on my mom’s Roku.  A clone of the game, Galagon, was on the Tandy TRS-80 micro computer and a combo cart on the Gameboy Galaxian/Galaga.  It was in every version of the Namco Museum that has appeared on PS1, N64, Gameboy Advance, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, DS, PC/Windows, Dreamcast, PS3 and Wii.  In addition you can play Galaxian in the loading screen of Ridge Racer on PS1 and the bonus stages of Galaga in the loading screen of Tekken on PS1.  Galaga is also available as an unlockable in Pac-Man Party on Wii/3DS.

Series Sequels and Remakes

Although Galaga (I know technically the series is Galaxian but I always have the sequel as top of mind) is the blueprint for almost every title in the series, it has been refined over the years.  Gaplus, as it is commonly referred by Namco, is better known as Galaga 3 because it was renamed when it came to the US.  It’s a much more difficult version of Galaga that now allows the ship to move halfway up the screen, features power-ups that speed up bullet shots and death results in restarting the entire level.  In addition the Queen Gaplus appears and no longer captures ships like the queen in Galaga, instead she drops several weapons including a tractor beam and laser.  A new item, the shooting star, appears from time to time and awards the player with a new triple shooting ship or an extra life if they are already using the new ship.  This game wasn’t widely ported until later in time thanks to the video game crash of 1983 and the untimely early 1984 release date.  Gaplus can be found with its original name in the PS1 Namco Museum, Vol 2 and on Namco Museum Remix on the Wii as well as the Wii Arcade Virtual Console.  It is also on iPhone as Galaga 3.

Galaga ’88 was an attempt to revamp the series, although it was pretty much just an updated version of Galaga like Gaplus was.  Unlike its predecessor (technically this is the fourth title), this game reverts more to classic Galaga with bonus levels and lineups while keeping the difficulty of Gaplus.  Enemies can now merge with one another and lay eggs along with new fancy backgrounds, but for the most part it’s just more Galaga.  This game came to the United States as Galaga ’90 and thus the counterpart ports interchange the year behind the name based on where they released.  It was ported very faithfully to the PC-Engine (as ’88) and Turbografx-16 (as ’90) along with a solid portable version on the Game Gear (also as ’90).  The Namco collection that released on all last generation consoles also featured the game.  Digitally the Turbografx-16 version is on the Wii Virtual Console and the arcade port is on the Galaga collection on iOS for $3 (app is free, you pay to unlock it in-app).

Galaga Legions is the most recent iteration that features updated 3D models (there was even an extended “DX” version that came out a year later) and introduces satellites that can be placed on the board in any direction.  Like the changes from traditional shmups to danmaku/bullet hell, Legions redefines the concept of kamikaze enemies.  Instead of dodging one or two dive bombers you will see cascades of enemies flooding toward you as you frantically take out the moving obstacles.  I did love the fact that you can adjust the graphics to feature retro-style sprites like the ship from Galaxian.  Just as I recommended with Space Invaders, contemporary gamers may find this an easier barrier to entry than the 255 level classic.

Although it hasn’t really changed over the years, I love that Galaga has gotten quite the resurgence these days and highly recommend you check it out.  Thanks to the re-release cabinets I see in random theaters and bars in Kansas CIty, I’m betting they are pretty widespread (although let me know if not so I can buy it for a collector’s item).  Tomorrow’s shmup is a favorite from my summers at Six Flags: Star Wars Arcade.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

Tagged with , , ,

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