Thursday, March 13, 2008

Retro Review: Galaga '90

Before I get started with the review I would like to draw your attention to an initiative thought up by fellow retro gaming blogger Racketboy. His idea is to form a kind of "book club" for gamers where he chooses a certain game and then everyone plays it for a certain amount of time before saying what they thought of it in the forums. I think this a great idea and I will be joining in myself. If you're interested you can read his article on the subject here. Incidentally for anyone who thinks I copied certain sections of his blog, I had already been writing this blog for well over a year before I even knew of the existence of his so any similarity between them is purely coincidental!

Back to the to subject in hand which this week is Galaga '90 for the TurboGrafx-16. There have been many many entries in the Galaxian/Galaga series over the years but for most people Galaga '90 (aka Galaga '88) is the definitive version. What makes it more than another Space Invaders style left-right-shoot game? You guessed, I'm about to explain. For anyone interested in a full history of all the games in the series, you could get hold of a back issue of Retro Gamer #32, which has sadly sold out but you may be able to find a copy on ebay.

Format: TurboGrafx-16, Wii Virtual Console
Publisher: NEC
Developer: Namco
Genre: Shoot 'em up
Region: All
Price: 600 Wii points
***Tested on the GP2X***

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Galaga might look fairly simple, granted, but the 1990 edition had some nice touches that were pleasing to the eye. Certain bugs explode in a shower of colour like a firework, others fuse together to form a giant superbug which trys to crush your craft, and if you're good enough you will be able to pilot a giant ship and lay waste to swathes of space insects in one swoop. The bugs have been drawn and animated with a lot of character - for invaders out to destroy the human race they sure are cute. Some of them don't really like being shot (funny that) and they're eyes will pop out in alarm.

Sound: 7 out of 10
All of the classic Galaga sound effects are back in this version, but after a while the noises can start to grate a little. What little music there is is good, especially in the "Galactic Dancin'" bonus stages where waves of bugs fly around in formation to the tango.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
While the basic structure of the original Galaga is still there (take out wave after wave of bugs), Namco have expanded and enchanced the gameplay in many areas, which is what makes Galaga '90 so enjoyable to play. Firstly, the game splits off in multiple routes and features many different endings, depending on whether you manage to pick up blue gems along the way and warp yourself into a different dimension. Warping gives you lots of points but it also makes the levels and enemies harder to deal with so you have to weigh up the situation and decide which route to take.
In addition to the standard stages Galaga '90 also adds scrolling levels and boss battles which add a nice level of variety to the gameplay and keeps things fresh.

Then there are the giant bugs and the bonus stages as previously mentioned which add a new flavour to the gameplay. You always want to try and better your previous performance, and this is heightened by the fact that the game keeps track of your hit percentage. There are also two different modes to choose from the outset - single or double ship. You do pay for the extra ship with one of your lives but it allows you to begin the game with a bit of extra firepower. The controls are spot on -really responsive, so that when you die you know if was your fault and not bad game design or programming.

Bugs, bugs, everywhere, why are insects in my hair?

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
There have been many games based on the original Space Invaders concept over the years, but the neat little touches that Galaga '90 bring to the party make it more than just a standard clone. Other games like Super Space Invaders (or Majestic 12) have been along similar lines but they haven't pulled it as well as Namco has here.

Value and Replability: 8 out of 10
Even in today's world of epic 60 hour extravaganzas, I still find simple games like this really enjoyable. Sometimes I only have 30 minutes or so to spare, and quick arcade games are perfect for fulfilling this role. A tyical game of Galaga '90 may only last about 10 minutes or so, but with all the different routes, hidden features and rankings, no two games ever need be exactly the same.

From a cost point of view, I can't imagine the original Hu-card version of the game for the TG16 could cost more than £10 these days, assuming you can actually find one. A better bet is downloading the game from the Wii Shop and playing it on there. Or you could play it on the GP2X of course, either on the move or on a big TV hooked up with a TV-Out cable. The GP2X has a very good TG16 emulator availble for it called Temper and Galaga '90 runs perfectly on it.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Galaga '90 is a charming game which is full of smart features that will keep you coming back time and time again. Wii owners should definitely consider spending the 600 points required to acquire the game.

As it happens the TG16 is quite adept as 2D shoot 'em ups so there may be more reviewed in the future.