In North America in the late 1980s, you essentially had three ways to play Namco/Midway’s classic space shooter, Galaga. Of course, there was the arcade original, released in 1982. Then you had two home console ports, 1988’s release on the NES and 1987’s release on the Atari 7800.
Now, I consider myself a bit of a Galaga connoisseur considering that it’s one of my top 5 favorite arcade games of all time, so when I play it on a home console (or plug and play device), I am looking to recreate that “Galaga feeling”. Lightning quick reflexes necessary to succeed is one requirement. Another requirement is pinpoint accuracy along with the gamble of letting your fighter get captured only to rescue it for a duel fighter attack. This is mostly what I need for that authentic “Galaga feeling”. Yes, visuals are very important as is sound/music, but controls and gameplay are what it’s all about when it comes to this game. On its own merits, the 7800 port of Galaga is a fine and fun game. It controls nicely, in spite of the ProLine controller, but it’s not a very fast version. The enemies seem to move slightly slower than I remember and your gun fires back at an equally slowed down rate. These two subtle differences thankfully work in tandem, allowing the 7800 version of Galaga to remain playable.
I don’t think there is one specific thing about Galaga that endears the game to me more than it’s peers. There were a lot of “bottom-up” shooters similar to Galaga that could have competed for my quarters, time and love. Part of what made this particular game synonymous with 80s arcade gaming for me was its ubiquity. In the mid to late 80s, Galaga could be found everywhere in the same way I could find a Ms. Pac-Man or a Donkey Kong cabinet. Therefore, I played it a lot and ultimately became quite good at it. The better I became at it, the longer my quarters lasted so I was continually drawn to it whenever I had a spare quarter. Galaga’s in-game sounds are forever in my memory banks as well. I can retrieve, from memory, the game and level intro music, the post-challenge stage stats summary and the sound that’s made when your fighter is captured whenever the mood strikes. Most of what’s required for that “Galaga feeling” is available in the Atari 7800’s version but it’s not quite as pin-point accurate as the NES version is for me. It’s the little things that are missing in the 7800 version that keep it a notch below the NES in terms of arcade faithfulness. How the side of the screen isn’t used to keep track of levels, points & fighters you have left. The speed of the game. The attract screen at the beginning not flickering and flashing like it should. The lack of fan-fare between levels. All of it adds up to a good but not great port of a classic title. I like Galaga for the Atari 7800, but I don’t love it. Still, it’s one of the better arcade ports for the console and deserves to be part of your 7800 collection.
Currently in my collection: game, manual