Galaga and Greatness

Y’know what’s a great game? Galaga.

Galaga arcade machine (source)
A modern Galaga arcade machine (source)

G-A-L-A-G-A.  It even has a great name. Galaga.

I don’t have a funny story here or any quirky memories about how I totally tripped and fell onto that Galaga arcade machine that one time and nearly severed my ankle.

Nope. Nothing like that at all.

Instead, I’m going to expound upon the greatness of Galaga in a few paragraphs. Please bear with me as I gush.

Galaga was bestowed upon the world by Midway (or Namco if you were in Japan) in 1981. I occasionally played in it in the “arcade” at our movie theatre when the Ms. Pac-Man machine was taken; but I primarily remember playing the Atari 7800 version. If you haven’t played Galaga, I…I have no words for you except that…you should. You just really, really, really should. I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to find. Look, the search bar, it’s right up there, and “Galaga emulator” is all you need to type.

Galaga cover art © Atari
Galaga cover art © Atari (source)

Like Defender before it, Galaga was one of those simple yet mesmerizing games that made one completely lose track of time. It was like Space Invaders and Galaxian, except SO. MUCH. BETTER. You commanded a ship that you moved laterally across the bottom of the screen. Your goal was to shoot aliens — wave after wave of colorful aliens. They came swooping up, down, and around until they reached the center of the screen. Once they reached their formation, they began dropping like flies…crazy, unpredictable bomb-wielding flies with the intent to kill…kill…KILL! But you, the awesome little ship, could shoot the aliens at any point. If you destroyed them all before they reached the center, onto the next wave you went. The further you got into the game, the quicker the aliens flew, formed, and attacked.

From YouTube user Retrogamer125. Oh, that intro music is enough to make me squee!

The thing about Galaga was that, after several waves, it got easier to recognize repetitions in the alien’s flight paths. Depending on the wave, I knew that if I started my ship in just the right position, I could hit all the aliens coming on from one side or the other. So eventually my goal in each wave became to kill as many aliens as I could before they reached the center; because once they got there, their patterns became much less predictable. This also led to some rather exhilarating play (for the 80s, and a kid with an Atari). For edutainment purposes, I can’t think of many old school games that were better at developing hand-eye coordination than Galaga.

Galage screen 1
Look ma! I’m learnin’! (source)

And yes, I did just write “hand-eye coordination, ” which, at the time, equaled F-U-N without me knowing it. Gotta love them vidja games.

But even better than trying to keep up with the aliens was Galaga’s single-best secret: obtaining multiple ships! That is, having two (OR MORE!) ships shooting the aliens…together! TWO ships! Because two was totally better than one!!

A normally "oh crap!" action that gets a "HOORAY!" response. (source)
A normally “oh crap!” action that gets a “HOORAY!” response. (source)

I realize that in this day of dildo bats and dubstep guns (hmm, wanna play Saints Row much?) that two ships firing simultaneously at a bunch of sprites might not mean much. But oh…oh, my friend, having two ships in Galaga was just…so...damn good. And Galaga was the first(?) game to introduce this mechanic. During some waves, certain aliens tried to kidnap your ship using a tractor beam. If successful, the alien carried the ship back up to the formation and you went onto to your next “life.” However, all was far from lost. If you killed the alien holding your ship, it fell and linked to the current ship. Double your pleasure, double the fun! All with no chance of getting gum in your hair or on the sofa!! (Doublemint gum? The twins? …oh forget it.) Having two ships was a game changer. For a moment, you felt invincible. You blazed away, vaporizing aliens left and right like there was no tomorrow.

(Also, OMG…also, if you played your cards right, it was easy to string together 3 or even more ships! The most I remember getting together was 3. At 3 ships, it was super easy to kill aliens, but those that remained had an easier and larger target.)

Galaga is, without a doubt, one of the best and most quintessential old school games. In the arcade or on the Atari or some other port, it was fun, addicting, colorful, well-paced, and simple. No tutorials, no loading, no updates, no complicated moves.

There is the beginning. There is the end. And in between, there is Galaga. It was, is, and shall always remain a great game.

59 thoughts on “Galaga and Greatness”

    1. And thank you for the comment! You’re right, once you got into that Galaga groove, passing hours felt like minutes. Before you knew it, the day was over!

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  1. Great post! The video game that I’ve probably worn out my thumbs on (not to mention fed more quarters to at the arcade) more than any other would be the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions of “Street Fighter 2”. However, my favorite old school arcade game has got to be Galaga. It has got to be best 8-bit arcade game ever invented. The colors are bright and vibrant, the sound effects were catchy and visceral, the play was quick and engaging, and the premise was basic and archetypal (man vs. evil bug aliens). Nostalgia will still grab me whenever I see the game somewhere, and I’ll end up playing it all over again. Getting to level 17 one time, while reaching the high score is my triumph in miniature.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! And I certainly agree with your sentiments. It’s totally hard to pass up a round of Galaga when it’s available. Fast, fun, addicting, crazy, colorful — it has all the best traits of any old-school game.

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      1. There’s a cafe near my place with a multi-game cabinet and Galaga usually ends up gobbling up all of my extra laundry money. The trick is to go AFTER the dry cycle. Otherwise I’m SOL!

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        1. Nice! Uh, I mean…your poor quarters! There’s a pizza place near me that has a couple arcade games…no Galaga, thankfully for my wallet. 😉

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  2. One of my favourite games of all time. I even have the notifications tone on my phone as a Galaga sound. Double ships is totally the best, and a perfect score on the challenge stage–nothing is more satisfying. Except for maybe spelling EXTEND on Bubble Bobble!!!

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    1. Well, thanks! It’d be a dangerous thing if I knew that a working Galaga machine (let alone an old-school arcade) was nearby. You must be excellent at exercising self-restraint! 🙂

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  3. When I had M.A.M.E. up and running, I was often struggling with a Galaga sequel called Gaplus (essentially Galaga 3 if I remember right) which is even harder than Galaga 1. I also had to get a retro fix playing a Galaga/Galaxian predecessor called Gorf.

    While console adaptations can be awesome, I firmly believe arcade emulation is where it’s at. I even bought pre-made commercial arcade controls to make the experience a little more authentic, too, although I don’t have enough $$ to do a honest, full-on cabinet.

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    1. That’s really cool! Yeah, there’s certainly nothing quite like playing a true arcade game on an arcade machine. Since I was never much of an arcade-goer, it was always a little strange for me whenever I got the chance to play Galaga upright with the large joystick and buttons.

      I’ve not heard of Galpus or Gorf, but I’m hardly a video game historian; and I really only scratched the surface of Atari games to begin with. We only had the 7800 for a few years before our parents got us an NES. I missed so much from the Golden Era! But that’s why it’s great to share with and in others’ memories,

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    1. Several on the Atari, though I didn’t think they were all great at the time. Asteroids, Defender, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man were probably my favorites. I was terrible at Xevious, Joust, and Robotron 2084, yet they were still fun.

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  4. In 1981, I was sporting big hair, neon clothes, wide belt, rolled up London-cut jeans and the title of, ‘Galaga Queen’. I couldn’t start a game w/o first visiting the ladies, as games could last hours… I am left handed, so I played the game with my arms crossed. To this day, if I actually run into a machine, I’m obligated to drop a quarter in!
    Thanks for the memories and congrats on being freshly pressed!

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    1. Thank you, and thanks for reading! I once saw a left handed-player in an arcade playing cross-armed. (Not Galaga…maybe Joust? I don’ quite remember which game.) I can’t pass up a Galaga arcade machine either! We actually found one in a pizza parlor once that the crew had rigged for free play. It was the best thing going while waiting for your pizza!

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  5. I’m glad to read someone else enjoys this game like I do! I brought this 5 or 6 years ago on a little hand-held, self-contained machine (not a gaming system) and learned the joy of Galaga — the most fun part is having double-ships during the bonus round and trying to get ALL the aliens for the full bonus.

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    1. I didn’t know Galaga was once available on a stand alone handheld — very cool! Bring able to obtain extra ships in the game was just about the best thing ever. If only the creators of Space Invaders, a fine game in its own right, had thought of that!

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    1. I love that you include a couple quotes from The Last Starfighter! It’s also great that you and your husband connect over Galaga. My husband’s an old school Galaga fan, way more way than I could ever be. We connected over video games early on, and it’s cool that we can still maintain that connection today. Thanks for reading!

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  6. Ah memories of computer games. I don’t care who you are in life everyone has that one game that they love regardless of difficulty, graphics and sound etc. I’m not sure if it is the game as much as the memories of simpler times in our lives. Either way I myself wrote a post on my memories of computer games of the 80s. (Here is the short link should you be interested in reading it http://wp.me/p3kAVB-1y).
    Thank you for your post I enjoyed reading it.

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    1. I really liked your post too. We had games on cassette for our TRS-80, but I couldn’t name a single game. I remember that computer however because I learned BASIC on it. Obviously some memories are certainly stronger than others. I’ve found that blogging about them helps me from forgetting them! And it’s great to share in others’ memories as well.

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  7. Galaga is good. But Deluxe Galaga is even better! Wow, the hours I spent whiling away my time on our ancient Amiga. When I should have been studying.

    Love the nostalgia in your post, and I completely identify with it.

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  8. I played Galaga when it first came out. In 1981, on the original arcade machine. It was 20 cents a game, back then. I played it a lot… And it was, indeed, the coolest and best of that space invaders genre.

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    1. That’s pretty awesome! The machine I played on (only very occasionally) was well used, but I doubt it was an original Galaga arcade machine.

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  9. In third grade on a field trip to Chucky Cheese, I was schooling fools left and right at Galaga. No one could touch my insanely good score and I was riding a gaming cloud nine.

    That is until my teacher gave it a go and completely decimated my score. Damn you, Mrs. Birdsong, DAMN YOU!

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  10. There is something to be said about the simplicity of older arcade games – just shooting straight around the screen. Simple doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult.

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    1. Exactly! Galaga was simple in design, and you could play it simply if you chose, but it wasn’t an easy game. I love today’s games without a doubt, but sometimes there’s nothing like relaxing, so to speak, with a good arcade classic.

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  11. Great article as usual! For me is was Bomber Jack, We had a machine where I worked part time. I did very little work :s lol Well done too for Freshly Pressed, you really deserve it 🙂

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    1. Thank you! Was that a Tecmo game? Or maybe I’m thinking of something else… It sounds familiar though. I would have liked to play more Galaga on an actual arcade machine, but Atari provided a very reasonable facsimile. 🙂

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  12. Ahhh this brings back so many memories of running to the arcade with my brother, our jean pockets so full of quarters that they weighed us down with every step we took. Glad I ran into your blog. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Nice!

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    1. Thanks! I was never much of an arcade goer, however I used to always give Galaga (or Ms. Pac-Man) a go at the small “arcade” at our local movie theatre. I was only ever allowed a dollar in quarters, but it was enough to get in a game or two.

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      1. Yeah, makes me wonder if our parents wanted us out of the house often by arming us with fistfuls of quarters. Hmmm…oh well, it made me the geek I am today so thanks either way, parental units!

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        1. Same here. If my folks had never invested in game technology early on, I’d probably never be here typing responses to comments on a blot post on Galaga! 🙂

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  13. I really have to concur that Galaga was pretty awesome… I have copies of Namco Museum for Playstation 1 specifically so I can play them with the arcade controller I have. 🙂

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