For veteran (read: old) gamers like me, the mere mention of the name Galaga is enough to turn me misty-eyed. Originally released in 1981, it built on the popularity of Space Invaders adding swooping, spiralling aliens with more unpredictable attack patterns. It might not be the biggest innovation in gaming ever, but at the time it had a massive impact on the way games played, spawned occasional updates and is still remembered fondly today.
Hence this iOS version to celebrate Galaga’s 30th anniversary (which was back in 2011). Containing four different versions of the game (Galaxians, Galaga, Galaga 88 and Gaplus), it offers the original game for free, with the other three available via in-app purchases.
Normally I hate in-app purchases, which just seem like a good way to exploit gamers. In this app, though, they have been implemented sensibly. If you want to buy the other games in the pack, you can unlock individual titles for £2-3, or buy the whole lot for £5.99. Given the amount of money I’ve spent on these various titles over the years, £6 for 4 games seems pretty good value to me.
As you’d expect from games that are around 30 years old, the graphics aren’t going to set the world alight, but they still look good on an iOS device. Graphics are small but well-formed and clear. It’s easy to differentiate between the different types of aliens and the plain black background makes it easy to spot bullets, or swooping aliens. Unlike other arcade clones, the game uses more or less the full screen – a small, but crucial thing because it makes the gameplay area that little bit bigger, giving you more time to manoeuvre your ship and react to hazards. A filter or HUD can be applied that makes it look as though you are playing the game on an old cabinet, which is a fun (if mildly pointless) touch.
Sound is similarly basic but good. Mostly limited to 80s style beeps, bleeps and explosions, it really captures the sounds of 80s arcades. The noise of swooping aliens still gets the adrenalin pumping, and acts as an early warning of impending attack, ramping up the tension. The only real concession to modern gaming is that in-game tunes have been beefed up – personally, I could have done without this since the atmosphere generated by the original sound effects is more than adequate and I tend to play the game with the music turned off.
Emulation is a real strong point. As you’d expect (but don’t always get!) from old games running on modern, powerful hardware, these are faithful ports, glitch free and and none of the slow-down or crashing I have experienced on other iOS emulations.
The real jewel in the crown is the controls. Emulated retro games often fail on iOS because the touch screen controls can’t compensate for the lack of a physical controller. Galaga gets it right by providing two options (which you can switch between at any time). Whichever method you use, you will find the controls to be incredibly responsive and well implemented, responding to your press instantly and giving you no excuse if you die!
Option one is to use a slider bar to control movement, with firing accessed by tapping the screen. On the whole, this works pretty well – although occasionally an alien appears where your firing finger is, which means you only spot it at the last minute and can cause problems.
Personally, I prefer option two. This utilises a second slider which controls both movement and firing (whenever you touch the slider, the ship fires automatically). This prevents your firing finger from obstructing the screen, as well as introducing an element of strategy. Firing too much causes your guns to overheat (slowing your rate of fire significantly) as well as reducing your scoring rate (since you are awarded bonus points for accuracy).
The games in Galaga 30 have stood the test of time well. They are good, old-fashioned score attack games which makes them a lot of fun, and massively addictive. The straightforward nature of the games makes them easy to just pick up and start playing, even if you’ve never tried them before, but be warned: they are not so easy to put down! There’s always that temptation to try and get to the next level, get a higher score, beat your friend’s high score… and so on.
The biggest downside is the size of the game. For such a simple game, it needs a massive 142MB of storage space, which is ridiculous. I suspect that most of this is taken by a Star Wars style introductory video which sets up the “plot” (like you need one!). Sure, it looks good, but let’s be honest; you’ll watch it once and then skip it every time you play in future.
Still, it’s hard to be too critical of this app. Bandai have done a good job by (mostly) leaving the games alone and letting them speak for themselves. By working on the things that matter – the emulation and controls – and pricing the individual games sensibly, they have come up with a must-have app for retro gamers old enough to remember the birth of the industry.