Among the several classic arcade games that Hasbro Interactive has modernized for home platforms is Galaga: Destination Earth. At first glance, the new 3D graphics might make it hard to even recognize the game as being related to the original arcade hit, but many of the crucial aspects of gameplay that made Galaga an addiction for so many arcade-goers in the early 1980s are reproduced in this later release.
Insectival enemies still enter the screen in familiar single- and double-file strings of ships and do not begin their waves of attack until all are in formation. Accuracy is still rewarded by allowing a limited number of shots on the screen at once. Giant beetle-like Galaga command ships can still capture a player's fighter and stolen fighters can still be recovered with a careful shot at the captor, doubling the player's fire power. Even the single-axis, "back-and-forth" movement of the fighter may be appreciated by arcade veterans.
It would be inaccurate to describe Galaga: Destination Earth as a remake of the arcade classic, but this later-day sequel is designed to pay due homage to the compulsive gameplay that made the original so popular.
The game consists of nine stages, each with multiple waves of alien attackers. Stage 1: The mission: Destroy everything in sight. I can do that. Wave 1: the game starts out looking much like the original Galaga, if with jazzed up backgrounds. You're the ship at the bottom shooting up at formations of aliens at the top. The aliens, most of which look like insects of some sort, are drawn kind of 3D with some shading, but they don't flap their wings or anything and are generally not animated, and there are only a couple of different alien types. You shoot, and they explode. Nothing spectacular, just a blip and they're gone - very limited sound and video effects. Destroying one specific type of alien craft will sometimes release a shining cube. Catching it temporarily gives you the ability to capture alien ships with a conic beam much in the same way that the aliens could capture your ship in the old arcade game. A captured alien ship adds its firepower to yours. There are also little ship medallions that you can collect to replenish your shield. Finally, there are badge-like things (the game calls them merits), and if you collect enough of them, your ship gets an improvement. The first improvement I got was thrust, but I couldn't seem to do anything with it. Not like I could fly off the bottom of the screen to be closer to the aliens. As a whole, the game seemed kind of bereft of creative power ups, which is frequently one of the ways that old arcade games are modified to make them more interesting than their quarter-guzzling parents. In the first impressions column, Galaga is failing badly.
Once you finish the first two waves, with you at the bottom and the aliens at the top, then you move to a different view - the camera behind you and the aliens out in the distance ahead of you. I quickly came to call this the ass view, and it first struck me as among the poorest attempts at 3D-ness that I'd ever encountered. Aliens get bigger (closer) and smaller (farther away), but you're not feeling any sense of depth, and it's very difficult to judge distances. Oy. I've smacked into lots of aliens that I thought were farther away. The game should come with a "Warning: Aliens are closer than they appear" sticker to slap across the top of the computer screen. In the original arcade game collisions with aliens were fatal, but at least now you have the shield. They give you a targeting reticle to maybe help you with the depth problem, but it doesn't work. I can't tell if the aliens are inside or outside the range of the reticle. Heck, I can't even tell how far the reticle is away from me! Then suddenly you find yourself out of your ship and firing some kind of mounted gun. It's so abrupt that it's hard to make sense of the sudden shift in perspective, and then it's over very quickly and you're back to the ass view. What the hell was that? Eventually I'm so tired of looking at my own ass (just had a flashback to a really strange thing that happened at my senior prom) that I'm glad that this third wave ends and I'm off to wave four.
Wave 4 has you at the left side of the screen shooting to the right. Different from the bottom to the top thing of wave one? Not if you turn your computer screen on it's side. I've been playing this arcade game for 10 minutes, and I'm already bored to tears. Mediocre graphics, very few power ups and alien types, and depth perception issues; Galaga has just about worn out its welcome.
Then stage 2 rolls around. You spend a lot of time in the ass view, and you're flying alongside a space station picking up survivor pods. The space station helps add to the appearance of 3D depth, and there are more alien types. As a whole, the game starts to feel a whole lot better. Stage 3 has you on a planet surface activating water purifiers. In the valleys the 3D perspective is finally fully realized, and the game almost plays like a modified version of the trench run in the old Star Wars arcade machine. The game finally has a good variety of aliens, and some more power ups have shown themselves. Further stages have you flying through tubes that are kind of like the old arcade game Tempest, into small cities around buildings and under bridges, and along the surface of the sun dodging solar flare columns. The longer you play this game, the better it gets. The problem is that at heart, this is supposed to be an arcade game. You know, 5 minutes of entertainment, and on to something else. This game doesn't even become worth playing for 10 minutes or so, and if you quit and restart the game, you can't start on any stage you want to, you have to start back at the beginning, and all that just pisses me off.
There are two great industry secrets to a successful arcade game. 1) The game should be exciting or interesting to play from the very first second. 2) The difficulty level should be such that you lose your quarter (probably $1 today) before you get bored of playing. Frankly, Galaga: Destination Earth fails on the first, so who the hell cares if it succeeds on the second. This game could be improved 3000% just by allowing me to skip stages I've already completed when I start a new game. As it stands, the later stages are fun, but not worth the tedium of the earlier stages to get there.
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