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Galaxian Review Rewind

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On 06/14/2021 at 02:00 PM by Jamie Alston

In space, it's always cicada season.

If you want to delve into the history of vertical shooters, this should be on your list.

If you live anywhere in the northeastern United States like me, your space is likely being invaded by the periodical cicada brood this time of year. After experiencing the terror of having one smack me in the eye the other day, I realized that these critters share some interesting commonalities with the insects in the arcade classic Galaxian. They’re red-eyed, noisy in groups, and will eagerly dive-bomb you as if “Ride of the Valkyries” were blasting in the background. If you told me cicadas were the inspiration behind this game, I’d totally believe you.

Before we get into the review proper, let’s take a brief look at the game’s history. Galaxian was created by Namco game designer Kazunori Sawan. After witnessing the success of Taito’s Space Invaders, the President of Namco tasked Sawan’s team with turning Galaxian into the next big arcade hit. The enemy characters were initially designed to resemble TIE Fighters from the Star Wars film but were later changed to be insect-like mechanized creatures. Galaxian was a sight to behold with the technical accomplishments of being one of the first arcade games to feature full-color visuals and a scrolling starfield to simulate vertical movement.

At first glance, one might dismiss this game as a prettier Space Invaders knockoff and nothing more. For indeed, they share the same basic premise- shoot down each row of aliens while they move horizontally in unison and fire back at you. But that is where the similarities end. Graphical differences aside, Galaxian ups the ante since the enemies aggressively break formation attempting to ram your ship while firing missiles at various intervals. If they miss, they’ll rejoin the convoy and take turns attacking you.

Your ship- which the game calls “Galaxip”- can only fire a single shot at a time and must either hit an enemy or reach the end of the screen before you can shoot again. This creates tension any time you miss, especially if an enemy is approaching. They often attack in a meandering zig-zag pattern to either extreme side of the screen.

Thanks to the Galaxip’s leisurely rate of fire, a large part of the challenge involves staying alert to which side the enemies are descending to dodge them properly. Occasionally, some will perform a somersault just before rejoining the squadron, adding an element of surprise to the unsuspecting player. When you whittle their forces to just a few, the remaining enemies all attack at once without regrouping (unless they destroy you).

Your biggest worries are the two flagships on the top row. Each will attack with an escort of two wingmen (provided you haven’t destroyed them already). The scoring system also plays a significant role since the amount of points awarded depends on whether or not the enemy is actively attacking. Sure, you can easily pick off the fleet while most are still in formation, but destroying an individual ship moving in for the kill is worth double the points. Taking down a flagship mid-flight can net you up to roughly 13x the base point value, assuming you destroy both wingmen first. It’s an engaging risk/reward system, especially if you want to acquire the bonus stock ship quickly.

Galaxian was also unique for its sound design. It was one of the earliest examples of using a synthesizer to produce sound effects for the game. In a similar vein as Space Invaders, each round begins with a slowly pulsating tone that gradually speeds up as you destroy the enemy fleet. It suggests a sense of desperation for both the antagonists and the player trying to take them down. When an enemy swoops down to attack, they emit a whistling noise that lowers in pitch as they descend to the bottom of the screen. The audio presentation, though simplistic, adequately sells the action.

Based on my positive words about the game’s overall quality, one might expect that I’d give it a higher review score than the one awarded. However, I cannot ignore that the game is hampered somewhat by the passing of time. In the 40+ years since its release, vertical shooting games have evolved into far grander ventures than merely destroying the same enemy formations with a single shot-firing ship over and over again until you eventually lose the game.

After completing the first stage, you’ve seen all the game has to offer; gradual difficulty increases aside. And while that’s not in itself a bad thing, it won’t likely hold your attention the way it would have in its heyday- especially if you’ve already experienced the sequel Galaga and beyond. However, the game is still worth playing, if nothing more than for historical context.

If you’re interested in owning this Galaxian, you can easily find it in one of the many Namco Museum compilations available in some way on most major gaming platforms. Though it may not impress quite like it used to, the game still leapfrogged the offerings of Space Invaders and played a pivotal role in paving the way for scrolling shoot-em-ups to truly blossom. As a fan of the genre, I say that makes this game worthy of the utmost respect.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




06/15/2021 at 05:37 PM

Yeah, Galaga overshadowed this to such an extent, I keep forgetting Galaxian exists. I do like revisiting it from time to time though. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/16/2021 at 12:30 AM

Truth be told, I had exposure to Galaga first before Galaxian. I didn't about Galaxian until Namco Museum vol. 3 on the PlayStation.

Cary Woodham

06/15/2021 at 07:13 PM

Yeah Galaxian gets forgotten a lot of the time, being overshadowed by more significant games that came out a year or so later, like Pac-Man or Galaxian's own sequel Galaga.  But Galaxian was a pretty significant game, being the first to feature true color graphics and enemies that swooped down on you.

As a kid, I didn't realize that Galaxian was the first game in the series, so when Galaga 3 came out, I was like, 'Where's Galaga 2?"  I did the same thing with Donkey Kong 3.  I was like "Where's Donkey Kong 2?" Not realizing that DK Jr. was 2.  

The Galaxian flagship makes a lot of cameos in other Namco games.  Like one of the bonus fruit in Pac-Man and Dig Dug, and many more appearances.  Also, in Pac-Man World, there is a whole shooter stage where you blast pixelly Galaxians and the boss of that level is "King Galaxian."  

I think it's funny that games like Galaxian and Galaga are in the same Namco universe as other games like Ace Combat, StarBlade, and even Dig Dug and Mr. Driller!

Have you ever heard of the theater arcade game Galaxian 3?  I played it once at a Dave & Busters a long time ago.  It's just an on-rails shooter, but it was neat at the time.  I'm glad I got to play it.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/16/2021 at 12:35 AM

Thanks for the insights Cary!  Funny you should ask about Galaxian 3. The only way I found out about it was through playing Ridge Racer (or perhaps the sequel, Ridge Racer Revolution). One of the billboards in the game has Galaxian 3 on it. Years later, I got curious and searched for it on YouTube. Sure enough, I found a video of the real theater game. I could have played it back then. I'm jealous, man!

Cary Woodham

06/16/2021 at 07:57 AM

Yeah Ridge Racer games have a lot of ads and cameos of other Namco games in them.  Heck, in Ridge Racer Type 4, there's a whole track named Phantomile, which is the setting of Klonoa!

Another PSOne game that has a Galaxian 3 billboard is Tekken 3.  There is an amusement park level with that in the background.  Which makes sense, since Galaxian 3 was probably showcased in Namco's indoor amusments parks in Japan around that time.

In Japan, the Galaxian 3 theater arcade game looked way more immersive, with more players and chairs and stuff.  In the US, at least the one I played, it was just behind some curtains and four players could stand at the guns and shoot at a big screen.  But it was still pretty big for something in an arcade from the early 90s.  Now go read my E3 article! :)


06/16/2021 at 02:45 PM

There were a lot of Galaxian clones on pre-NES consoles and computers. Some of fhem were close enough to be sued over, but there was one I liked on TRS-80 called Galaxy Invasion. That one had the twist that the boss "flagship" enemies would occasionally fire unavoidable lasers if you didn't destroy them in time. There were no official Galaga ports until the NES, so I think Galaxian actuallly did better on the home market since Galaga had to compete against Super Mario Bros. It's obviously a different story now: Galaga is one of the most evergreen arcade games out there and is in almost every collection Namco puts out, alongside Pac-Man and Dig-Dug. Galaxian occasionally gets put in colllections for historical context, but really shows its age while Galaga is a legit timeless classic.

I always thought of early 80s shooters as falling into one of three categories: Space Invaders clones, Galaxian clones, and Centipede clones. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/21/2021 at 12:29 PM

I'm glad you mentioned Centipede. I first discovered that game when a friend gave us her Atari 7800 console with a huge bag full of 2800 and 5200, and 7800 games. Centipede and Millipede were included in the bunch. I'd like to review those games someday, though I could barely get past the first stage in many cases. It was a little too twitchy for my tastes.


06/21/2021 at 10:42 PM

One of the main features of Centipede and Millipede is that the games force you to divide your attention between the upper screen with the advancing centipedes/millipedes as well as scorpions, and the lower part of the screen where you had the spiders, any stray centipede/millipede parts, and the ladybugs in Millipede. I played both games on Atari hardware. There was also a NES version of Millipede made by HAL Labs (under Satoru Iwata, no less), which also did the NES Joust and Defender ports, all of them sporting sound and music samples from Punch-Out!! And finally, there was an arcade clone of Centipede called War of the Bugs or Monsterous Manouvers (sic) in a Mushroom Maze, which was made using the Galaxian hardware.

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