In Desperate Need Of Love: Galaxian (Atari 2600)May 28, 2018
Welcome, one and all, to the first In Desperate Need Of Love of the year! For those unfamiliar with this feature, it’s where I feature a video game that I believe has either been overlooked or suffered what I would call unfair criticisms. This time around, I’m going to be looking at one of my favourite games from yesteryear, the Atari 2600 port of Galaxian.
So, some history. The game was developed by Namco in 1979 and ported to the West by Midway the same year. The game was designed to be a fixed-shooter title that could rival Taito’s smash hit Space Invaders. To this end, the game sees you control a spaceship by moving left and right at the bottom of the screen and shooting at hordes of enemies. These enemies park at the top of the screen and move left and right, then take it in turns to swoop down towards you, dropping bombs and trying to crash into your ship.
Now, why is this game so worthy of praise in my eyes? Okay, confession time. I didn’t enjoy the console port of Space Invaders when I first played it, and still don’t now. It was slow, jerky, and just looked bad to me. Galaxian, even in its stripped down 8-Bit console version, offered a lot more. It was colourful, it was speedy, and the sweeping arcs of the enemy flight paths were a lot more interesting than the left to right sliding of the better-known Space Invaders. Throw in the different colour enemies having different point values, and you have a nice little added layer for the game.
Galaxian was also the first game to make me feel like I could play in a stylish manner. The reason for this is that there were some pseudo trick shots that you could pull off with the right timing. The simplest of these in concept was achieved when you timed a shot so that a parked enemy in the top row slid into your bullet as they moved left and right in preparation for attack. If you get the hang of this, you could take out swarms of high valued enemies before they even got to launch a single attack at you. Then there was the double shot. You could only fire one shot at a time, and until your bullet disappeared, no second shot could be launched. The trick therefore required you to let an enemy descend so close that it was almost touching you. Then, you’d hit fire twice, firing off one shot that explodes your foe, and a second immediately after that hits another as it either descends or moves to the side. It’s a simple thing, but believe me, when you’ve never experienced anything like that before, it really does make you feel like the most awesome intergalactic space fighter in the galaxy!
What amazed me with this port was that the rise in difficulty as levels progressed was enough to keep it interesting. Like many games of the era, each level is pretty much the same thing at its core. Here though, each new stage sees more enemies flying at once, and as you advance, they’ll try to bomb you more often too. Get beyond the first few levels, and you may end up finding yourself backed into the corner of the screen. That was actually pretty terrifying if you were going for a new high score, because you hit the edge and stopped, while the enemies could go outside the boundaries and loop around to the other side.
Here’s the thing though: the original arcade version was a big hit for Namco. It was one of the most popular games in the golden age of arcade games, and it’s still played now. In fact, the most recent world record for points was set in 2009, so that’s quite a legacy! On top of that, this particular port reviewed very well at the time, and is still reviewed positively now. With all that in mind, why do I feel that the game is overlooked? Well … be honest here; had you heard of it before today? The chances are that unless you had an interest in older arcade machines, you’re more familiar with the aforementioned Space Invaders. And let’s not forget Galaga, the more successful sequel to Galaxian.
That’s right, the ever popular Galaga was a direct sequel to this. The result of that is that a lot of people are aware of the sequel but not this particular title. That the original is sometimes forgotten in comparison is a real tragedy though, as the quality of the Atari 2600 port is really very high. So, for that reason, I believe that Galaxian is not only In Desperate Need Of, but also Very Deserving Of, some love.
But what about yourselves? Have you played this classic? Did you know that Galaga was a sequel to it? Let me know in the comments below.
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