Admit it. Great shooters have been few and far in between on modern consoles and computers. Sure, there are a few notable exceptions such as Omega Boost and Thunderforce V. Unfortunately for shooter fans, more often than not the vast majority of them are absolute duds (Star Soldier: Vanishing Omen anyone?) or the gems among the lot are reserved for the Japanese market. Bangaioh and Soukyugurentai are examples of critically acclaimed blast-a-thons which never saw the light of day on our shores.
To the thrill of many shooter fans, Hasbro’s Atari division licensed the premiere shooting game franchise from Namco. Given Hasbro’s track record of deftly modernizing the graphics and audio while keeping the main playe elements intact, I had high hopes for Galaga: Destination Earth. Numerous incarnations, including the awesome Galaga ’90 for the TurboGrafx-16 should have provided the developer guidance on how a sequel to be done. Galaga was such a great game to begin with that Hasbro couldn’t possibly screw up by stripping the game of its most endearing aspects, right?
Sadly, they did.
There are nine levels in Galaga: DE, with each one having around seven to eight stages. The type of stages constantly switch between pseudo top-down 2D modes, side-scrolling modes (a-la Gradius) and full-blown 3D stages that are somewhat reminiscent of Nintendo’s Star Fox. The graphics are polygon-based on all perspectives.
Each mode has its merits, but overall they’re quite uninspired. The top-down 2D perspective is similar to the original Galaga and is the most enjoyable. The others are mediocre at best. Not only does it not retain the feel of the arcade classic, but the gameplay execution is not up to snuff. First off, you are now equipped with shields, allowing you to absorb six hits until you’re destroyed. And whereas in the original you only had to contend with enemy alien ships and their fire, Destination Earth throws various objects at you such as asteroids and space debris — hit them and you’re toast. The biggest departure from the original is with the game’s missions. That’s right, several stages require you to perform certain tasks. Some levels require you to take out as many aliens as possible during a given time limit, which doesn’t seem so bad. But some in some of the other missions you need to stop missile launches, activate aqueducts or pick up every darned floating pod — the latter forces you to start the level all over again if you don’t pick up every single one. Such a requirement might be fine for a game like Mario, but unacceptable for a game that built its reputation on fast-paced shooting action.
Galaga: DE’s gameplay is also extremely frustrating. As in the original, the aliens will loop around your ship just before returning to the top of the screen. But in the 3D mode, the aliens often fly offscreen – only to return and smash into your spacecraft when you have no chance of avoiding it. Speaking of 3D mode (third-person perspective a-la Starfox), the ship is too darned big. It covers up too much screen real-estate blinding you in head-on attacks. To compensate for the confusing view, the 3D mode has a target receptacle that helps to aim your fire. Even with the receptacle, it’s really, really hard to see what you’re shooting at. Like the original, certain aliens will come down and try to capture your ship via a tractor beam. You can get double firepower by taking out the ship that is holding the first ship hostage, but good luck trying to shoot the alien down in 3D mode. As mentioned before, it’s really hard to see what’s going on due to the confusing viewpoint and the fact that your ship blocks a large chunk of the screen. More often than not, you’ll be cursing at the game after shooting the captured ship instead of the alien.
To make matters worse, there is no save feature. You get three continues, and once they’re used up, you must start from the beginning again. The omission of a simultaneous 2-player mode is also puzzling as well.
Those of you who were hoping to fall in love with Galaga all over again are best advised to stay away. Judged on its own merits, Galaga: Destination Earth does have its moments. But they’re few and far in between. And if you’re thinking of enjoying a few rounds of the original, well, you won’t find it here because it’s been left out. Ouch.