Mention the word Galaga to veteran (i.e. old) gamers and they are likely to all misty-eyed with nostalgia. The original game (released in 1981) took the basic Space Invaders idea, but developed it. Instead of simply progressing down the screen in rows, the aliens in Galaga also had the ability to swoop down on you, spiralling and turning as they went, making it harder to predict their flight path, and so harder to hit them.
This simple gameplay addition added a tremendous amount to the basic Space Invaders formula, and Galaga quickly became a hit in the arcades, receiving literally dozens of ports and updates across to virtually every home computer known to man. Never ones to miss a trick, Bandai sought to celebrate the game's 30th anniversary (in July 2011) with this compilation of games for the iPhone.
Where Galaga will really appeal to fans is that it offers not one, but four different versions of the game showing how it has evolved over the years. These include Galaxians (the original game, included free as part of the initial download), Galaga, Galaga 88 and Gaplus. The last three are all available via in-app purchases (something I usually despise), but in Galaga 30, it's been implemented quite well.
For a start, if you are happy with just the original game, you can have unlimited plays for free. Unlike many other such games, there's no time limit on how long you can play for or restrictions on the number of games you can have in a day. It's all there, all free. The pricing structure to download the rest is pretty fair, too. A one-off payment of £5.49 unlocks all the other games, or you can buy them individually for £1.99 or £2.49 each. Given the amount of money I've spent on this game over the years, I think that the whole pack offers pretty good value for money. Having said that, I think Bandai could have got more casual gamers to download the extra stuff if they'd priced the additional titles at 99p. For many people, £5.49 is just too much to pay for 4 30 year old "space invader games".
Aside from a few gameplay tweaks, the titles are all pretty similar in terms of their basic concept, so I will discuss them in this review as though they are one (purists will argue with me over this one, but still!). As you would expect from a game first released in 1981, the presentation is fairly basic. Graphics are small and have a similar design to your traditional space invaders. Despite their small size, they are very 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 the bullets, or swooping aliens. Unlike other arcade clones, the game uses more or less the full screen - a crucial development which makes the gaming area that little bit bigger, giving you more time to manoeuvre your ship to avoid swooping aliens. The gaming area is also surrounded by a filter or HUD (this can be turned off). This is a neat addition which makes it look as though you are looking into the screen of an old arcade cabinet, to give the game that authentic look and feel.
Where concessions have been made to give the game a more modern look, these are limited to things like bullet trails and other minor bells and whistles. To be honest, I could have done without these, since they add nothing and I prefer the cleaner look and feel of the original.
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 after all these years, and acts as an early warning of impending attack. The only real concession to modern gaming is that the various in-game tunes have been beefed up with a thumping sound track. Again, I could have lived without this (the atmosphere generated by the sound effects alone is perfectly adequate) and I tend to play with the music turned off
It's the emulation of these titles that's the real strong point, though. It's a brilliantly faithful port, free of any glitches and none of the slow-down or crashing that I have experienced on other iPhone ports of old games. Galaga 30 is a perfect example of how to do it well, updating the game for new hardware whilst staying totally faithful to the original.
The real jewel in the crown is the controls. Previous attempts at old games to the iOS platform have often failed due to the lack of a physical controller. Galaga gets it right. There are two options (both available at any time). Option one is to use a slider bar to control the movement of your ship with firing accessed by tapping the screen. This works pretty well, although occasionally I find that an alien appears where my firing finger is, which means you only spot it at the last minute.
My preferred method is option 2. 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). 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!
Since they have scarcely been changed, the games in Galaga 30 are as addictive as ever. They are good, old-fashioned score attack games where the sole aim is to score as many points as you can. This makes the games incredibly good fun to play. Its straightforward nature means it's easy to just pick up and start playing, but very difficult to put down. Each time you score that little bit more, or progress to the next level, you want to carry on playing to see if you can do it again. Fall just short of your all-time high score and you'll instantly give it another go. I've lost track of the number of hours I've spent playing Galaga and its various clones over the years, and this iPhone version is no exception!
The big downside is the size of the game. For such a simple, old game, it's a ridiculously large download out of all proportion to its simple nature: it's going to cost you 134 megabytes of storage space. This might not sound a lot, but when you see the simple graphics and sound, you'll wonder how on earth they can take up so much room! The answer lies in a good looking (but completely pointless) Star Wars movie which sets up the "plot" (like there is one!)
There's just no need for this. Part of the charm of Galaga and its various clones is that it has always been graphically simple, relying on addictive gameplay to keep your attention. Sure, the video looks very pretty, but let's be honest, you're only ever going to watch it once, so devoting so much space to it is just stupid.
Large download size aside, Galaga is as fun and addictive as ever, and this is such a cracking port that for once I don't begrudge being charged for the additional games. This just proves what I've known for a long time: Retro Rules!
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012