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Galaxian: Simple, timeless spaceship shooting

Galaxian is an improved take on Space Invaders that hit American arcades in 1980. By all accounts it was a success, yet it was destined to be surpassed by its sequel, Galaga, the next year.

Ports of arcade games didn't arrive on the NES until 1986, at which point games like Galaxian looked dated. For this reason Namco wisely skipped Galaxian and went straight to the superior Galaga. But in Japan the Family Computer received a number of arcade ports before the NES even existed. Galaxian came to the Famicom in the fall of '84. It at last found its way to these shores less than a year ago as part of Namco's Museum Archives.

The Famicom version is very faithful to the original. The only major change was necessitated by the fact that early arcade games used vertical monitors (3:4), so the screen layout needed to be adapted for TVs (4:3). As a result, the distance between your ship (the Galaxip) and the enemy is shortened. Perhaps to compensate for this, they move a little more slowly. The only other noticeable change is that the blue ships are now green.
Famicom cartridge of Galaxian
Shooting spaceships is about as basic as a video game can get. Seen positively, this means it has timeless appeal! Your ship can move only left and right, not forward or backward. The game is difficult because, unlike in Galaga, the Galaxip can shoot only once at a time! There are no power-ups. The alien ships, arranged in six rows, move left and right like in Space Invaders, but instead of marching downward, individual ships swoop down at the Galaxip in looping arcs. Only while making one of these attack runs do they shoot.
Whenever you clear the screen of all aliens, it merely fills up again. The number of flags in the top-right corner indicates your current level. With each the difficulty ramps up, as ships make sorties in more rapid succession. The goal is to score as many points as possible. Ships are worth different amounts of points. The slow, green ships are worth 30 points, the more aggressive purple ships 40. The red ships at the back are worth 50, and the yellow flagships 60. You get three tries (you earn a fourth ship after 20,000 points) at destroying as many spaceships as possible, then it's Game Over.

The game is all about timing, as you have to lead your targets. If you destroy a ship while it's attacking you, its point value doubles, so it pays to wait. The flagships attack in formation with two red ships. This is where high-score chasers need to pay attention: if you destroy the flagship before the red ships, you get 300 points, but if you first take out its wingmen, its value jumps to a whopping 800. These high values are available only if it launches with both wingmen. A solitary flagship is worth just 150, while one with a single escort scores 200. 

The graphics in Galaxian are plain, but not without their charms. Unfortunately, there's no background music, just the beeps and boops of swooping ships and your shot. Despite its simplicity, I enjoy Galaxian, even more than most of the NES launch titles. There's no doubt Galaga is the superior game, but Galaxian is fun, too.
Grade: C-

Linked Review
"Despite the fundamental simplicity of Galaxian, it offers enough nuance and dynamism to make for an interesting shooter that truly does feel like Space Invaders taken to the next level. And the Famicom version is just about perfect."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works Gaiden 


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