Retro vs Remake: Legion of Galaga

"Let's blow these things and go home!"

Today’s Retro vs Remake games: Galaga vs Galaga Legions/DX

While technically not the first fixed space shooter, Galaga was probably one of the most successful ones. The sequel to space shooter Galaxian, Galaga shares many things in common with its predecessor but also features some neat new innovations.

Gameplay is pretty simple: you move along the bottom of the screen, firing your ship’s gun at the alien formations that move around at the top of the screen. No, this is not Space Invaders, the aliens will actually try to actively attack you by dive-bombing your ship and firing shots of their own. There are even “boss” enemies at the top that swoop down to try and capture your ship. (If you let them, then you have a chance to recapture it and get a dual-ship;) There are also challenge levels every four levels where enemies fly across the screen in predefined formations and you get bonus points for each enemy you hit and an even larger bonus if you destroy every enemy in each “wave” and/or stage.

After its initial success in the arcades, Galaga spawned a couple sequels and in more recent years, several remakes.

The most recent and notable remake is Galaga Legions. This XBLA/3DS game takes the core concept of Galaga (shooting aliens) and completely turns it on its head.

The first noticeable change in Legions is your ship. Not only can you move your ship anywhere on the screen, but in addition to your standard fighter, you now have two small, indestructible satellite ships attached to each side that fire smaller shots along with your main guns (which now fire a continuous barrage rather than individual shots). These satellite ships can also be positioned independently around the screen and will fire a continuously in the direction they’re facing. This adds a unique layer of strategy to the game that is otherwise lacking.

Enemy formations have also gotten a complete overhaul. It is very rare that you will see the standard five row pyramid from the original. Instead, massive swarms of enemies swoop in from all over the screen. To balance the seemingly impossible odds, nearly every enemy swarm has a “core hive” somewhere in the formation. If you destroy the core, every enemy attached to it is automatically destroyed. Another helpful feature are the “trace lines” that briefly appear before each wave showing you the path of each enemy formation.

Another new gameplay feature is the “black hole” object. This object occasionally appears and begins to suck everything on the screen into it. If you manage to destroy the hole, any enemies that were caught in its vortex will become your allies and swarm all around you, destroying any enemy in their path (destroying themselves in the process). This feature seems to replace the “boss galaga capture/dual ship” trick from the original game.

The visuals in Legions are stunning, especially when you have masses of enemies on the screen, your ship is firing at full power and you have turned enemies swarming all around you. While impressive, it can also be distracting and difficult to tell what is going on around you when the screen is full or laser blasts and explosions.

Legions is an excellent game with a definite old-school feel, but the massive shoot-fest also seems to take away any strategy found in the original and turns it into a game of pure reflexes and pattern memorization. Then again, that’s how many arcade games played as well. All in all, I’d have to say I liked the original Galaga best; its elegant simplicity beats the sensory overload of Legions.

What’s your pick? Galaga or Galaga Legions? Vote for your favorite in the comments.