“ Manufacturer: Namco Networks America Inc. / Type: iPhone Game „
I had such high hopes for this iPhone game and sadly, it turns out to be a bit of a mess. In fairness, that's not the fault of the developers, who have tried their best to make it into a faithful adaptation. It's just that the iPhone is not really the right hardware for this particular game.
Galaga is one of the early variations on space invaders. Rather than simply starting in rows and columns at the top of the screen, alien ships swarm in from the sides, before settling into their position. They can swoop down on you and some have a tractor beam used to capture you. Your objective is simply to kill all the aliens before they kill you.
There's no doubt that this game has had a lot of attention lavished on it. There is a choice between "Classic Mode" (the original arcade game) and "Remix Mode" (enhanced graphics and sound), although there is a slight niggle in that once you have selected one, there is no way (as far as I can see) to switch modes, other than exiting the app and reloading.
Of the two modes, Remix is better. Aside from the enhanced graphics and sound, there is a larger play area. The Classic Mode has a rectangular surround (meant to simulate the original arcade screen) which is pleasing for retro fans, but ultimately annoying, since it reduces the playing area by around an inch. Anyone who has used an iPhone will know that the screen is not that big to begin with, so reducing it further has a serious impact on a crucial game play element - manoeuvrability. The Remix mode, on the other hand, uses the full screen making it far more playable.
Graphics-wise, the creators have done a pretty good job. Whilst they are inevitably quite small, the sprites are still detailed and look good. Animations are fluid and smooth and different backgrounds provide a little more variety than the standard black star field of Classic Mode. These backgrounds also help to give a sense of progression, since they change with each level.
The small graphics can be frustrating, though. The smaller aliens are only a few pixels across and hitting them can be tricky, requiring pixel perfect shooting; if you are so much as a millimetre out, your bullet will go flying harmlessly past. This is particularly frustrating in the Classic Mode where the aliens are even smaller.
Whilst the sound effects are minimal (again, particularly in the Classic Version), they are nevertheless effective. There are the usual effects for firing your weapon, explosions etc. whilst Remix Mode features an inoffensive tune in the background. This is one area where Classic Mode edges it slightly, as there is something deeply evocative about the minimalist bleeps of the game that transports me back to those early 80s arcades.
Sadly, the control system proves to be the game's downfall. Galaga needs to have highly responsive controls and the iPhone is just not up to the job. If you've played the game, you will know it requires pixel perfect positioning to progress. You have to be confident that you can nudge your ship along the smallest fraction and to avoid an enemy bullet. Similarly, controls need to respond instantly to your movement, so that you can take fast evasive action when needed. The simple joystick and fire button combination of the original was incredibly intuitive, yet gave advanced players tight control over the ship. The iPhone version doesn't even come close to recreating that.
There are three different control methods provided, although two of these are virtually unusable. One requires you to tilt the iPhone left or right to move your ship, but it's extremely hard to judge how far you need to tilt the phone, so your ship just ends up skittering across the screen. The second mode provides a slider at the bottom of the screen used to move left and right. Again this is not accurate or responsive enough and you frequently find yourself dying because your movement was not registered in time.
The third is better, but still doesn't provide the fine level of control needed. This mode gives you three small buttons, containing a left and right arrow and a fire button. This proves quite a comfortable interface but unfortunately, it's still not sensitive or responsive enough and I found myself getting frustrated that there seemed to be short delay before the ship moved in the direction I pressed. In a game which relies so much on split second timing and precision movement, even the shortest of delays can prove fatal.
This problem is exacerbated if you have any kind of a case over your iPhone screen, since this further increases the response time. Of course, you can remove the screen protector whenever you want to play but this destroys the temptation to just start it up and having a quick blast when you have a couple of spare moments. In the interests of fairness, I did remove my case and play the game again using all three control methods. There was a slight improvement in the "arrow keys" mode, but it still wasn't enough to give the fine level of control Galaga requires.
Sadly, for retro gamers everywhere, this is a case of "right game, wrong platform". It's clear that Namco have taken a lot of time and care with Galaga and tried to provide a faithful recreation of the original and an enhanced version. Sadly, the small size of the iPhone screen renders the play area too small, whilst the skittery, unresponsive controls prove frustrating.
At £1.79 from the App Store, this is just not worth the money. There are better (and cheaper) games out there, and this one doesn't come recommended.
© Copyright SWSt 2010