In the past, I’ve taken you back as far as the early 80’s, but today we are heading back even further, to the year 1979! Which means that this story begins the year I was born. Worry not, however, for this is not about me. It’s about the early days of a company that I’m sure many of you know, called Namco.
For those of you now wondering what on Earth I am talking about, I’ll give you a hint: Pac-Man. But much as I treasure the exploits of that power pellet chasing ghost-eating fella, that’s not where we’re heading today (maybe some other time?). Plus, Pac-Man is from 1980 and we’re heading to 1979. If my time machine is working properly that is.
Those of you who know arcade video game history may be wondering how Galaga and 1979 are related, as the game was released in 1981, but there’s a simple explanation: Galaga is not the first game in the series, it’s actually a sequel!
Two years before Galaga, Namco developed and published Galaxian (which I was unable to acquire screenshots of), and while both had a lot in common, Galaxian was clearly inspired by Space Invaders (sorry, no screenshots of that either), which was released in 1978 by Taito. The main comparison can be drawn from the design, but both the visuals and gameplay was expanded upon with RGB color and enemies that went on suicide runs towards your ship (as opposed to simply moving in one direction and then dropping down, in Space Invaders). God only knows what made those aliens commit suicide..
Controls in those three games (Space Invaders, Galaxian and Galaga) were almost identical: You moved the ship left and right, with a button to fire at the pathetic alien scum that attempted an invasion of Earth. Simple stuff, but let’s not forget that thes were simpler times – especially for video games. No high-resolution graphics to make games look like movies (first to pull that off, from what I recall, was Under A Killing Moon in 1994).
I’ve said it before and chances are I’ll say it again, but.. early arcade games were all about getting a high score (along with bragging rights), and the two Namco titles I’ve now spent the better part of 400 words on were no exception.
While Galaxian felt a lot like a simple Space Invaders spin-off title, Galaga made things a bit more interesting by adding a few new features, including the ability to fire multiple shots – Galaxian only allowed a single shot on screen at any time, which certainly didn’t make it any easier.. especially if that one shot didn’t hit anything.
Speaking of features.. Remember the tractor beam from Star Trek? Galaga had those too! While most enemies would dive towards your ship in a suicide run, a specific type would randomly stop inches from the bottom of the screen and fire off a tractor beam. Moving your ship into the beam meant sacrificing a ship (or life, if you prefer), so better check to make sure you had a space before pulling off that maneuver!
While this may not sound profitable at all, there was a nice catch: The alien would then return to the top of the screen and if shot, you not only got the stolen ship back.. but it was positioned right next to yours – effectively doubling your firepower! This does have one disadvantage however, as you would also be twice as large a target.. risk vs. reward.
Over the years, Galaga has had plenty of sequels and while none come close to the greatness of the original (I am aware that Galaga is a sequel too..), I still feel a list of the more (or less) noteworthy among them, should be presented as I wrap this up and wish everyone a happy new year! Here’s to a great 2012..