Galaga Xbox Live Arcade Hands-On

A quarter of a century later, we still can't seem to stop destroying our own ship in this seminal arcade shooter, soon to be found on Xbox 360s everywhere.

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It's a safe bet that Galaga is older than a lot of you reading this article, yet Microsoft and Namco Bandai have teamed up to bring one of the most hallowed classics of yesteryear's arcade to everyone's favorite virtual arcade on Xbox Live. Would you even believe it's been 25 years since Galaga set hearts aflame in shopping malls and pizza parlors all over the country? Whether you lazed away the early '80s spending quarters by the bucketful in pursuit of a high score, or you've never even played this simplistic but addicting space shooter, the version of Galaga we've been playing looks like it'll be worth a handful of Microsoft points when it finally shows up on Live Arcade.

Emulating a game like Galaga on hardware as powerful as the Xbox 360's can't be too difficult, and indeed even the prerelease build we downloaded plays exactly like the old arcade game. If you somehow don't know how the game works, well, for shame! But we'll go easy on you and explain. Like Space Invaders before it, Galaga lets you control a space fighter horizontally at the bottom of the screen while insectlike alien enemies swoop down and fire shots at you from above. Some enemies can capture your ship if you get caught in their tractor beam, which docks you one life--but if you can then destroy the enemy imprisoning your captive ship, you'll gain the coveted dual ship for double the firepower. But you can also destroy that ship with a wayward shot, which means you just wasted a life, you loser.

As with most arcade games of the era, Galaga is all about the endless quest for the high score, so you pretty much just play it ad nauseam until you can't take anymore. A few very minor additions have been made to the experience, but nothing that will radically change the way you play. There's now a rapid-fire button in addition to the single-shot version, but this merely fires two shots in quick succession. In other words, it doesn't make you fire anymore shots at a time than when you shoot manually, it just fires them a little closer together than you can do with your thumb. A stage select also opens up as you play through the game that lets you begin new games from later stages. You still start out with no points when using this option, though, so this is basically just to let you skip the easier early stages and begin with more of a challenge.

Of course, leaderboards will be available so you can rank your scores against those of people who spend way too much time playing this game. But Live Arcade will only keep track of your ranked scores if you leave the few changeable options at their defaults. These include your starting number of lives and the score interval at which you get extra lives. If you want to make the game a little easier on yourself (you weakling), you can shirk the arcade rules, but if you want to see your name in lights up on the scoreboard, you'll have to leave them alone.

It's almost enough to make you lament your wasted youth.
It's almost enough to make you lament your wasted youth.

Like all Live Arcade games, Galaga has an allotment of 200 gamer points, with achievements requiring you to get the dual ship, shoot down one of your own captive ships, gain a perfect score on one of the frequent for-points-only bonus rounds, and encounter a number of rarer enemies from the later stages, such as the galboss, mosquito, and blue spaceship. Finally, you'll get a fat bunch of points for hitting higher-stage milestones, such as making it to levels 20 and then 30.

We're especially pleased with the presentation of Galaga on the Xbox 360. Since the arcade-correct framing of the screen is much taller than it is wide, the developer has inserted some really nice cabinet art on either side to fill in the empty space, and all the sound effects while you're navigating the menus are straight out of the arcade game, too. Galaga doesn't have a firm release date yet, but since the version we're playing seems basically finished, it may be popping up on Xbox Live Arcade before you know it.

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