The Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)
Memories: Where its predecessor, Galaxian, brought “attack formations” to standard Space Invaders-style shooters, Galaga introduced real strategy, and influenced nearly every shooter that came after it. In Galaga, you were the only thing on the screen when the game started – rather than being presented with an alien fleet from the first moment of the game, you had an opportunity to take out the enemy as they flew into formation. But, as in the case of the motherships, which you could use to double your firepower by allowing one of your fighters to be captured, wiping them all out before they had a chance to form up wasn’t always to your advantage.
Galaga was also quite unique in that it allowed you to make judicious use of your remaining “lives” – you could mortgage one of your turns by allowing a ship to be captured, and then regaining control of it. But it was inevitable that your increased firepower could only last so long before one half of your laser-spitting behemoth fell victim to alien artillery; after all, along with double the firepower came a ship double its previous size, making you a larger and easier target for the invaders. You also had to plan carefully – if a mothership was one of only two alien ships left on the screen, it would never try to capture you. In a way, this almost lent Galaga an air of artificial intelligence – you really had to play chess against this machine, sacrificing pawns for what amounted to a necessary but temporary advantage.
All in all, it was yet another major score from the people who brought the world Pac-Man. As a note of minor interest, Galaga also boasted some of the coolest and most instantly recognizable sound effects and musical interludes ever heard in a game. And it showed up in a brief scene in the movie WarGames.
It was quite a while before Galaga made it to home screens. A good adaptation finally appeared for the Atari 7800, and Galaga has since surfaced in Namco’s retro arcade collections for the Sony Playstation. That’s not to say, however, that some games didn’t mimic the game play of Galaga – Attack Of The Time Lord for the Odyssey2 being a prime example.