Review: Galaga Legions (XBLA)

It’s an arcade gamer’s perfect storm: A beautiful marriage of finely hewn, old-school arcade gaming blended with modern graphical pizazz and dizzying swarms of bright lights. It’s the inspired result of Namco Bandai’s crack team of classic franchise revivalists. It’s just about perfect — but it’s not for everyone.

Galaga Legions shares the same developer with 2007’s surprise hit, the highly acclaimed Pac-Man Championship Edition. But where Pac-Man CE retained both the graphical style and design principles as the original 1980 arcade game, Galaga Legions takes its familiar imagery and drops it into a wildly different — and wonderfully chaotic — new game.

Channeling the frenetic energy of genre-defining shoot-’em-ups (or shmups) like Ikaruga, Galaga Legions tasks the player with fending off swarm after swarm of enemy alien spaceships. You’re placed at the helm of a powerful but vulnerable fighter craft; one hit and you’re dead, just like the good old days. Unlike the original Galaga, enemies approach from all sides and not just in front of you. Fortunately, you’ve got an ace up your sleeve in the form of deployable satellites — impervious turrets that fire whenever your spaceship fires. Although it takes a few minutes to adjust to the shock of a game that’s a Galaga sequel in name only, the depth of strategy gradually dawns on the player.

Older gamers may recall the tactic of losing a ship to the aliens in the original Galaga, only to recover it on a second life and add it to your arsenal. This tactic of accumulate-and-conquer is taken to an extreme in Galaga Legions: by detonating a black hole-like entity, every on-screen enemy is swallowed up, only to emerge as a legion of allies that follow your directions. The amount of on-screen firepower is dizzying and impressive, even by modern game standards, and the thrill of having survived long enough to amass an army is palpable. The sheer joy of engaging in frenzied combat channels that same reptilian-brain response of pure, distilled fun that the best classic arcade games still muster.

It’s a shame, then, that a game with such a steep but manageable learning curve like Galaga Legions doesn’t place more emphasis on its leaderboard feature. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, released a month prior, inspired an unearthly level of addiction in its players by prominently displaying a leaderboard for each game mode on its main screen. Because confronting your friends’ scores is unavoidable, it adds an undeniably rich element of high-score pursuit that kept many players (myself included) coming back for months. While Galaga Legions supports a bevy of online leaderboards, it takes a bit of navigating to even find your scores and those of your friends.

Fortunately, succeeding in the game feels rewarding enough, and the achievements are smartly integrated to give players a satisfying sense of progress as they learn how to memorize patterns and redevelop those long-dormant twitch-gaming muscles.

Galaga Legions is available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00). The reviewer played the game for approximately five hours, completed stages one through three in both Adventure and Championship modes, and attempted stages four and five many, many times.

Recommended for:

  • Arcade-game lovers who appreciate brilliant design, stunning graphical style and a steep but steady learning curve
  • Fans of intense, “bullet hell”-style shoot-’em-ups

Not Recommended for:

  • Arcade purists expecting an updated Galaga experience that sticks closely to its roots, á la Pac-Man Championship Edition
  • You dang young’uns who’re afraid of a little old-school gaming challenge

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