Review: Galaga Legions DX

GalagaLegionsDX.jpg

One part nostalgia and one part modern arcade game, Galaga Legions DX is Namco’s latest step down its Generations road.  While a fun game, this revival’s biggest problem is that there are a bunch of games out there like it already.  For those that are open minded, this may be the best game of its type to come out this year.  Those who have grown tired with flashy, short session shooters should give this a pass.

The story, told through the impassionate voice of a computer lady reminiscent of Gene Roddenberry’s widow, is that you have a ship and you’ve got to destroy the Galaga.  The galactic environmental and ethical implications of exterminating untold swarms of space bugs are unknown.  Why they need to be shot down by the tens of thousands in one little ship is equally a mystery.  It probably has something to do with the fact that they are “approaching”.  In fact, if nothing else, I did like the fact that the game clarifies that the enemies are the Galaga.  I always thought that contained in the brightly colored cabinet that used to eat my quarters at the boardwalk was the stellar quest of the U.S.S. Galaga to destroy moon wasps.  You learn something new everyday.

This is a dual-joystick shooter.  The ship is moved around with one stick and two satellites that stay with the ship are all pointed in one direction or another to shoot with the other stick.  In the original arcade game, the bugs would come in waves and needed to be killed.  It is still like that here except that the waves last, on average, five seconds.  Before the screen fills with foes, lines tracing the default path for the Galaga are shown so that the ship can be placed for optimal blasting.  To speed up the action, it is not necessary to shoot every individual nebula termite.  Strings of enemies will typically have a glowing bomb on the end of them which, if shot, will destroy the entire line and any enemies around it.  Some bombs, when shot at the right time, will then trigger another nearby bomb and another explosion.  The game slows down for a second whenever a bomb goes off and hits something important so that the decimation can be relished before the next wave comes (usually within the same second).  The key is advancing through the waves quickly and shooting these targets at the right time.

Near the end of every area, the ship will be joined by a mass, a “legion” if you will, of converted, good Galaga to help destroy the bad Galaga.  This extra mass of shooters fills half the screen with lasers and is very helpful for quickly dispatching enemies.  As more waves come in contact with the legionaries, more of them will go away.  It is a challenge to keep these guys alive to quickly destroy as many waves as possible before time runs out.  The game slows down to a bullet time crawl whenever a bullet or enemy gets close to the ship, to allow for fine maneuvering.  Even so, the legions aspect of the game seems fleeting at best given that the screen is usually filled with enemies in various patterns, and the legion gets picked off quickly.

One great thing about the shooting in this game is that it gets faster the closer the ship is to its target.  If the hero and foe are across the screen from one another, there are maybe three shots a second.  Halfway across the screen and its eight shots a second.  If the ship’s satellite and creepy-crawlies are just barely touching, it’s like a buzz saw ripping through the masses.  In most other shooters, players are encouraged to stay away from danger, in this game there is a good risk and reward system to skating the edge of death and maybe get to that important bomb hidden in the group.  Next to setting off chains of explosions that destroy everything on the screen, wading into the fray is the best part about this game.

Given the vast host of enemies and laser blasts that appears at the same time, the game runs surprisingly smoothly, the frame rate only dropping once or twice for a second every couple of hours.  An impressive feat when you look at the mass of things displayed on the screen.  If this game did not run smoothly, it would have been an unplayable disaster.  While it is easy to get into the groove of this game, other people looking at it being played will have no idea what is going on given the fast paced nature of the game and the amount of things zipping about on screen.

While the gameplay is the same, there are a bunch of different graphics filters that change the appearance of the ship and the Galaga which fall into three main categories.  The default is the modern revival skin which looks a mess of weird, green squids; several skins make everything look like the original Galaga, including pixels exploding off of destroyed enemies; and one strange mode super pixilates everything.  The last is useless, as it is impossible to tell where the bombs are hidden in with the cosmos beetles because they look like a dozen squares put together in a mass of different colored squares.  It is nice that you can choose which mode to look at, regular and classic.  The classic mode can make it look like there is a large bumble bee sitting on its own throne of flies, and it is impressive to see the twenty or so Galaga per wave in the original classic arcade game jump to over five hundred.

Do not expect there to be a long campaign of any type.  There are nine regular areas to rank in, consisting of five sub-areas with reports on your score always popping up at the end.  It would be nice if the charts were more meaningful, say, compared your score to your friends’ scores or to your own personal best.  As it stands, you just see a bar graph fill up before being dropped back in the action.  All of the main areas have different space themed backgrounds (asteroids, star fields, etc.), but as the eye is primarily drawn to the cloud of interstellar gnats that need an ol’fashioned Skaronian ex-ter-mi-na-tion, the window dressing will hardly be noticed by most.  In addition to the standard, ‘kill everything’ mode, there is also a time attack mode for every sub-area where score does not matter and it is only about blasting with efficiency.  As the game is primarily focused on fast-paced eradication, there is not really much difference between this and the standard mode.

There are undoubtedly those out there who purchased Galaga Legions a few years ago and are wondering what the “DX” adds to the world other than more potential numbers to be added to an account’s metascore.  From a presentation standpoint, this game is very similar. Paths of Galaga waves are still traced out before the digital locusts flood the plains of space, and the ships and enemy models themselves look identical to me.  The difference comes in how both of these downloadable games are played.  The Extra Crispy DX is a dual joystick shooter focused on quick advancement through waves, and in the Original Recipe the ship can only shoot up and players must strategically place invulnerable satellites to shoot lasers in one direction. 

After playing a fair amount of both games, it is very difficult to go back to regular Legions, as it feels more natural to be able to point and shoot in any direction like you can in DX.  This makes it far easier to focus on hitting the bombs and big bugs to get large combos and scores.  The pacing is significantly quicker in the second game, and seems to be what Namco’s DX games are all about.  The first revision pulls the classic in to the twenty-first century, and the DX makes it faster and crazier.  Legions is about surviving waves of invasion similar to the original arcade classic.  Legions DX is about trying to determine the most efficient way to quickly murder hordes of alien insects and fill the entire screen with explosions and lasers.  It’s planning versus pure reaction time, and each game has its place.

In short, Legions and Legions DX feel and play very differently but share the same look and sound.  Sort of like Bridge and Poker: very different games, enjoyed for different reasons, and played with the same deck.  But if you can’t stand the greasy Care Bears themed deck your friends insist on using, then you won’t care enough about the substance of the games to give either a chance.

The question for whether or not Galaga Legions DX is a game you need to virtually pick up is really a question of whether or not you have room in your heart and hard drive for another dual-joystick shooter.  Even if it is very well done and presented in a fast paced and sense-overloading manner, this game is yet another one of those games.  And there are a lot of them out there right now.  This kind of acceptance centers around a deeply personally question, and one I am not fit to answer for you.  All I can say is that I, personally, like shooting space bugs and I hope that the next Namco Generations game will be another fast paced revival of an old arcade game in the vein of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX and Galaga Legions DX.  But I can respect the idea that others might want developers to move onto a new trend in downloadable games, and won’t want to give it a chance.

TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Over stimulating laserfest
+ Boots quickly, blaster faster
+ Way better than Galaga Legions

Cons:
– The Dual-Joystick Shooter is a tired genre; this is a Dual-Joystick Shooter
– Unclear which mode is the “compete here for best score on Earth” mode
– Possible to see everything this game has to show in less than an hour

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via XBLA, PS3 via PSN (XBLA version reviewed)
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: XBLA – 6/29/2011, PSN – 8/2/2011
Genre: Dual-Stick Shooter
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1686]

About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.