Video Games: 'Galaga 30th Collection' video game review

"Galaga" is a game that gives a smile to anyone who grew up visiting arcades -- but, unfortunately, "Galaga 30th Collection" for the iPhone isn't diverse enough in gameplay from game to game to warrant the cost, especially with the sometimes frustrating control scheme.

The biggest issue stems from the small surface space of the iPhone. There is no landscape mode, which is a big problem for the iPhone version, as you need both of your thumbs on the screen at once and will easily become either cramped, uncomfortable, or block your view.

Of course, it wouldn't truly be "Galaga" without the classic horizontal orientation, but the option would have been great -- if at least for the sake of your hands. Sliding one thumb left and right on the bottom of the screen to move your ship and tapping an invisible button on the left to shoot works well enough, but with such little screen real estate available there just simply isn't enough room for your thumbs to be at their nimblest. I imagine this is not an issue on the iPad version, though I did not have the opportunity to try it.

Another issue is the fact that only one game in Namco's free collection is unlocked from the start: "Galaxian." The rest ("Galaga," "Gaplus" and "Galaga '88") are in-app purchases (you're essentially buying an unlock code). The three together will run you $7.99, or you can buy each individually for $2.99, $2.99 and $3.99 respectively. That seems a bit pricey for fixed shooter arcade ports from the 1980s, especially when there are Atari console ports and much more advanced games like "Dead Space" on the iPhone for a lesser price than the collection.

Here's a breakdown of the games included:

"Galaxian": While a standard ship-facing-upward fixed space shooter experience, the 1979 game chronologically begins the collection, utilizing a basic concept of shooting aliens hovering above as they shoot back. Individual aliens will often break out of formation, attacking you as a fiery ball. Just like in "Space Invaders," your objective is to clear the enemies to move on to the next level and beat the High Score.

"Galaga": This legendary 1981 arcade game is the sequel to "Galaxian" ported to sit within an app. You play as a small spaceship confronting a horde of insect-like aliens that shoot at you and sometimes swoop down (like "Galaxian"). It's the kind of old-school arcade game that starts slow and becomes impossibly hard as enemies become faster and faster and more appear at once -- and every so often an alien will close in and attack with a wide beam. This is the ultimate retro arcade space shooter, and the only thing bringing this game down is the fact that my thumb blocks my view of incoming bullets as I tap the left side of the screen to shoot. Game over. This is an issue with each game in the collection, though, not just "Galaga."

"Gaplus": Also known as "Galaga 3," "Gaplus" is another clone of the series, but with the added twist of being able to move up and down the screen in addition to left and right. This adds an extra sense of freedom and the ability to better dodge enemies -- though you could also more easily fly right into them. Adding to the difficulty, if your ship is destroyed you will restart the level instead of simply respawning. Enemies shoot and dive, and the game includes ship power ups to your gun, giving you a tractor beam or wide shot, for example, and can be stacked.

"Galaga '88": This is essentially "Galaga" with improved graphics and "dancing aliens" instead of still ones. They will constantly move around the screen, swooping back and forth to the music, adding extra difficulty to the original favorite. It doesn't feel very different from "Galaga" at all, and several times I forgot I was playing "'88" and thought I'd simply hit a higher difficulty level in "Galaga" where the enemies move around more. Powerups have been included in this game.

Throughout the collection your ship's gun is fueled by a constantly recharging bullet gauge; you can run out of bullets but it only takes one or two seconds to recharge. Each of these games earn the player Galaga Points as they they kill enemies, which can be spent on items or upgrades. The collection comes with GameCenter functionality, meaning achievements and leaderboards for each game, and includes Facebook and Twitter sharing for score bragging.

The "Galaga 30th Collection," while moderately fun for a short time, speaks more as an early chronological history of the arcade fixed shooter genre than an addictive app you'll want to come back to for the next year. It's a testament to how much more content games receive today -- these four games of the series are so alike that if they were created today they'd be seen as a money grab, having been released as separate games instead of patch updates that added new modes. In the end, you'll likely play each game once and stick to the one you like best, ignoring the others.

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Video Games: 'Galaga 30th Collection'