Namco's arcade classic was a ton of fun 20 years ago, but how well does it hold up today on the small screen?
Namco seems to understand better than most mobile publishers that not just any NES port is appropriate for the mobile space. Their retro line-up includes arcade classics such a Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and Dig-Dug-- all games where someone can dip in for a few quick rounds and then dip right back out, satisfied. Publishers who port linear adventure titles instead of arcade classics make gamers see level 1 over and over again.
At first glance Galaga seems remarkably similar to all the other space shooters that hit arcades the late 70s and 80s. You move a ship left to right only, firing at waves of enemies who take their place at the top of the screen. Once all the waves are in place, the bombardment begins. Ships descend towards your lone fighter, and if you don't annihilate them before they reach the bottom they reappear at the top, and the descent begins again.
Games of this era didn't offer the advanced firepower of modern 2D shooters. Your lone blaster is all the firepower you have to defeat these endless alien waves. More importantly, it's all you'll need. The fact is the last 25 years since Galaga debuted has proven that the game isn't cut from the same cloth as all those other space shooters. Galaga was a better game, which is why those games have faded into obscurity, while Namco's classic has stuck around.
Since all enemy waves circle once before taking their place, through proper timing and old-fashioned skill its possible to decimate the alien ranks before they even begin their downward assault on your ship. It's extremely satisfying to see a level's assault begin with perhaps eight enemy ships thanks to quick shooting, instead of over five times that many. Getting first crack at the enemies is something I don't think will ever get old.
Ripping through alien lines with dual fighters is arguably even more satisfying. Moving into the path of the occasionally-appearing tractor beam leads to your fighter being captured, but not to a loss of life. The ship is taken to the top screen, and destroying the captor allows you to double your firepower, controlling two side-by-side ships instead of one. It feels good.
Although I would (and often did) play Galaga for hours on end on the NES, the mobile port isn't quite pixel perfect, which creates some problems. The game feels good on the mobile platform, but it also feels like some of the fidelity of the experience was lost. It was made slightly clunkier in the translation. I have a vivid memory of getting "perfects" on early bonus stages, and now it seems impossible to fire fast enough to destroy all ships.
Likewise, there's no more safe spot in the corner of the screen! I won't get into the finer points of what this means, but Galaga veterans will know. Suffice it to say that it keeps rounds much shorter than they were on the NES. I was hard-pressed to reach level 10.
Still, complaints aside, Galaga's classic gameplay almost feels as if it was made for mobile play sessions in mind, all those years ago. It works just as well today for short bursts, as it did in 80s seedy arcades, for marathon sessions.
What's Hot: Childhood memories flooding back at the sound of the Galaga theme
What's Not: No more safe spot in the corner!