Galaga hit arcades in 1981 and it was the superpowered sequel to Namco's previous spaceship shooting game, Galaxian. Featuring great additions to the Galaxian gameplay, solid 1981-era graphics, and very memorable sound effects and jingles, it quickly became a classic arcade game. Sequels would follow, but Galaga always stood tall. It's definitely one of the greatest games of all time, and now it's available for 400 points ($5) on Xbox Live Arcade. That low price will get you a mostly faithful port of the original arcade game and online scoreboards to make the competition global. While that's probably enough, when you compare this arcade-emulation job to the rest of the Xbox Live Arcade lineup, this one seems awfully bare bones.
For starters, there's no two-player mode. The arcade version let you alternate with another player. That's not really a big deal, ultimately, but it's sort of a weird omission. Also, unlike most of the other old arcade games available for the Xbox 360, there's no online multiplayer and no graphical update. Digital Eclipse, the company responsible for development work on Frogger, Robotron 2084, and the rest of the classic arcade games currently available on Xbox Live Arcade, has done some interesting, standard-setting work in those two areas, resulting in some really neat updates and additions, even if some of the online stuff felt a little shoehorned in from time to time. By contrast, this is a pure game of Galaga with absolutely zero frills.
Though, hey, for many people that's plenty. Galaga's gameplay is still as tricky as it ever was. Enemy ships swarm in and take up a formation at the top of the screen. Once they're all done flying into position, they begin to dive down at your ship, firing at you the entire time. You control a ship that moves left and right at the bottom of the screen, and your only button fires.
The twist, which adds what passed for immense levels of strategy back in 1981, is that the top row of ships, which take two hits to kill, occasionally drop down to somewhere near your level and spit out a tractor beam that will suck your ship up. It takes this new red ship back up to the formation and will use it against you unless you can pop the enemy ship while it's diving at your next ship. That will free the captive ship, which will float down and join up with your existing ship, forming a double-wide that gives you twice the firepower--but this comes at the expense of one of your extra lives. Despite decades of rumors to the contrary, no, there's no way to create a triple ship using all three of your lives.
The visuals and audio in Galaga are sharp and retain the arcade version's look and sound. The vertically oriented screen leaves plenty of room for borders. You can stretch the game out of its original aspect ratio if you're some kind of heathen, but then you'd just be crowding out the great original arcade-cabinet artwork, which borders the screen. Also, do yourself a favor and turn off the Xbox 360's online notifications when you play this game. Otherwise, every time you get a new message or a friend signs in, the notification bubble covers your ship and almost the entire player area. Other games have been able to move that bubble to other portions of the screen, so it's downright stupid that Galaga sticks with the default position.
Online scoreboards round out the package a bit and give you something to shoot for after you've earned all 200 achievement points, which are some of the easiest achievements we've seen on Xbox Live Arcade, because getting to wave 30 is quite easy due to the game's inclusion of a continue feature that wasn't present in the original. If you're used to other Xbox Live Arcade games, you might find this one to be a little short on add-ons and extra features. But in the end, this is a great version of Galaga, and if you're after a cool emulation of a fine arcade game, this one's worth checking out.