GAME REVIEWS

Monday, April 6, 2009

Galaga '90

~ GALAGA '90 ~
Namco / NEC
HuCard
1989

There used to be a code of ethics for vertical shooting that was followed by human and alien alike. Mankind was allowed a craft that would reside at the bottom of the screen as the invading armada aligned itself at the opposite end. Each side was granted its weapon of choice (a pea shooter, without fail). And they went at it. No world-obliterating armaments and none of that “change speeds on the fly” nonsense. You shot from one end, they shot from the other--battle done mano-a-mano, with one winner emerging. Galaga ‘90, the old guard's ultimate revenge, takes us back to the times when wars were waged with dignity.

Now, the fact that we’re traveling back a few years doesn’t mean that we have to be crude--Galaga ‘90 does “old school” with style. Take those pitch-black backgrounds from Atari classics and adorn them with flashing stars of various appealing colors. The twinkling luminaries slowly descend as we head into battle, some plummeting more quickly than others. This gorgeous “snowfall” is accompanied by pretty images of enormous satellites and icy planets in the distance. Who needs Mode 7 and swirling lava and other such junk when we’ve got simple, sincere beauty such as this?

Of course, you’ll probably be more concerned about the myriad intergalactic creatures who prance about the attractive canvas. Winged insect-like beasts and chubby alien miscreants alike surge onto the playfield, partake in fancy flying antics, and settle into their battle positions (rows near the top of the screen). It’s a likable bunch, to be sure. You’ve got your “Big Bangs,” who inflate themselves when you nail them with your missiles and ultimately pop like balloons. There are the charismatic “BOOMs,” who spontaneously give birth to mini-renditions of themselves upon being slaughtered. And then there’s the tough fella--the “Man of War.” This character is certainly an adept fighter--he uses his steel-plated wings to defend himself prior to launching his attacks--but he’s also smart: watch as he positions himself in front of his allies, thus protecting with his armor not only himself but also his comrades.

While they may appear meek, your enemies become extremely fast late in the adventure, making them tough to take down as they soar about the screen in erratic patterns, firing missiles at you all the while. These guys aren’t only relentless; they’re downright ferocious, and they make the experience a hell of a lot more intense than you’d ever expect it to be based on initial impressions. Nonetheless, Galaga ‘90 always remembers not to take itself too seriously, as you'll discover when your screen starts flashing with an unforgettable message: "THAT IS GALACTIC DANCING." Wacky tunes begin playing as your insect-like foes do the improbable: they call off their assault to... dance. But don't you stop firing away, as you’ve just stumbled upon Galaga ‘90's take on bonus rounds.

Well, it’s got charm in spades. It’s got length, for sure, as it presents twenty-nine levels to blast through. It makes for a good challenge, as anyone who has been crushed by a surging Bodyguard can attest to. Its replay value is quite high, especially considering the respective sights to be seen over four separate routes through the adventure (you gain access to alternative paths by acquiring special capsules and performing "dimension warps"). It even exhibits beauty, which is the last thing one would expect from a game that, in essence, revisits and pays homage to relics.

But what makes Galaga ‘90 truly special is the way it can put a player in a zone like few other shooters can. Once you’ve honed your skills, identified your adversaries’ assault patterns, and developed your strategy for attack... once you find yourself wiping out entire waves of enemies one after another and see your supply of reserve ships increasing while your score soars... this is when you’ll be not only hooked but also immersed. You’ll discover that zone of intense concentration that nothing can shake you from. This sort of feeling--this unwavering focus and the pride one feels from maintaining a high level of performance--is what keeps one coming back for more. The game becomes more enjoyable after you beat it, as you return time and time again to take additional shots at breaking personal records. Galaga ‘90, a TurboChip with a simple premise and a rather mundane exterior, becomes in the eyes of the player who has experienced it not only unique but also extraordinary.


You choose between a standard single-craft model or a double-ship right at the beginning. You can upgrade to the mighty triple fighter later on.


"Boss Galaga" uses his tractor beam to capture ships from your stock. Allowing him to do so and then merging with the craft he abducted after striking him down is actually a method of upgrading.


The graphics aren't all about simple stars on black.


Blast up the galactic dancers. Perfection is celebrated with fireworks.


Snag dark-blue capsules to perform dimension warps, which take you to tougher paths. Only by traveling the most challenging route can you see the best ending.


Most areas feature single-screen engagements, but some sections scroll vertically.


The boss creatures are pretty neat. Sadly, there are very few of 'em.

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