Retina Burn – Galaga

In an industry saturated by Shoot ‘Em Ups, why does Namco’s Galaga stand the test of time?

Galaga’s Main Screen


Galaga is a a game that needs no introduction. Hot on the heels of Pac-Man and Galaxian, Namco was an arcade juggernaut: Retching quarters from the pockets of innocent children around the globe. While Americans got their first taste of the legendary Shoot ‘Em Up in 1981, my first experience with the game wasn’t until the new millennium. Almost twenty years ago, a greasy youth begged his parents for pocket change at the local Pizza-Parlor.

“They’ve got video games here, dad!” My face was bright red with excitement. “-and they only cost a quarter to play!”

With a “clunk” my credit fell into the machine, and so began the onslaught. Brightly colored bugs surrounded my ship, screeching violently. It didn’t take long before I was completely overwhelmed: The last of my lives were exhausted, and I became the freshest contributor to an earnings report. What began that November evening was a new family tradition. Instead of lavish vacations or theme park excursions, my birthdays would consist of Pizza, Galaga, and perhaps a raid on the local toy-store. Warmed by the soft glow of the machine’s CRT monitor, I became an arcade addict.

A typical gameplay scenario.

When encircled by the sensory overload of modern vertical shooters, Galaga looks almost stoic by comparison. A low resolution (224 x 288!), single-button control scheme, and two-way joystick are all products of the time it was released. The game’s overall ‘feel’, however, has aged like fine wine. This timeless quality places Galaga shoulder to shoulder with the greatest arcade games ever made, and is the reason cabinets can still be found populating bars, laundromats, and Pizza-Parlors.

Aggressive players may opt to sacrifice a life to earn some extra firepower.


Narrative? Who needs it? The player is thrown right into the action from the moment they plunk a quarter into the machine. Control your ship using the joystick, and defend yourself against the horde with the fire button. Bonus rounds and abductions at the hands of ‘Commanders’ offer temporary relief, but true rest only comes with a game over. It’s this gameplay loop that keeps Galaga so relevant: Simple rules, clean visuals, and anyone can try their hand at besting the bugs.

If for some reason you’ve never given Galaga a try, Namco has you covered. The game has received a litany of ports to consoles, phones, and vintage computer systems. You could even delve into the gray-area known as emulation, but don’t expect me to share my secret stash with the likes of you. Finally, I feel the need to acknowledge the ‘Class of 1981’ re-release. This full-size cabinet runs three games, features a real CRT for maximum authenticity, and can even be bought new. For the stickler who demands the very best, this three thousand dollar investment keeps the legend alive…

“Feed me more quarters!”

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