Galaxian may have been first, but Galaga was the title that defined the series. What had begun as a simple take-off on the popular Space Invaders theme turned into one of the most popular and long-lasting hits of the arcade’s golden years.
Like Galaxian, Galaga put your spaceship at the bottom of the screen, ready to blast at the waves of aliens who swooped down to attack in formation. The aliens now looked more insect-like, flying onto the screen at the beginning of each stage before lining up in their usual formations.
As you passed through waves of alien fighters, special bonus rounds would pop up regularly, offering chances to score extra points without the fear of getting dive bombed. The sound effects and graphics were also improved, but none of these changes were what kept gamers flocking to Galaga machines for years to come.
Galaga’s real hook was the infamous “tractor beam,” a power possessed only by the Boss Galagas, the winged beasties at the top of the screen. At random intervals, the Boss stopped in mid-dive and fired off its tractor beam, sucking your ship up into the alien fleet. But that was only half the gimmick. As long as you had another fighter left in your stable, you had a chance to get that fighter back. When your captured ship made its next dive, if you shot the Boss that captured it, the stolen vessel would descend to join your current ship, giving you double the firepower. It was a brilliant move, one that actually encouraged players to waste their lives in the hopes of expanding their power.
The new features made Galaxian instantly obsolete, as Galaga machines began to command long lines in arcades around the globe. A handful of sequels followed, but none could match the phenomenal success of Galaga. Like Centipede, Ms. Pac-Man and a handful of others, the game became a living legend, a permanent fixture in many arcades. Almost two decades after its original release, Galaga remains one of the most playable games in arcade history, still pulling in spaceship jockeys after all these years.
- Play Galaga on your television at home
- Play Galaga online for free
- Play Galaga on your phone with the Galax app
- Check out more on Galaga at Rediscover the 80’s
- Listen to the Galaga episode of The Retroist Podcast