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. (Bandai, 1988)
Memories: Despite being one of the most consistent arcade hits of the early ’80s, Galaga seemed to be left out in the cold for years before coming to the home console scene. The first attempt, Atari’s passable Galaga cartridge for the Atari 7800, didn’t quite have the audiovisual flair of the arcade version. By the time the NES version was released, it was clear that things had changed – for all intents and purposes, this was the arcade game, and it looked and sounded and played just like the original. When the litmus test of ’80s consoles was arcade authenticity, you just couldn’t do better than that.
Now, to be fair, there are some differences – beyond the goofy “Demons Of Death” subtitle, that is. The arcade game played out in a less-compressed vertical space than this version, which has to fit a traditional horizontal TV screen. However, despite that cosmetic change, game play isn’t drastically affected: the same patterns, enemy behavior and AI, and strategies that will carry a decent Galaga player in the arcade translate to the NES as well.
If anyone was still in doubt that the NES represented a quantum leap for home video games, this near-perfect port of Galaga should have been enough to convince them. This was the experience that so many players of so many consoles had sought: the arcade game, flawlessly brought home.