Otaku USA Magazine
Galaga Legions

When I got my first glimpse of Galaga Legions during the Live Arcade portion of Microsoft’s 2008 E3 press conference (attended comfortably from my couch), I took away the initial impression of “Okay, cool, it’s going to be another frantic twin-stick shooter in the Geometry Wars mold.” As we all know, that’s something the downloadable world is fit to bursting with, so my excitement was tempered, my sole ambition a quick demo trial run. Now that it’s out, only one of my assumptions held true, and that’s the expectation of overblown visual mayhem in the form of a 3D makeover. The game underneath the gloss, however, is something new that makes Galaga Legions an update worth picking up for even the most wary of classic shooter fans.


It shouldn’t have been that surprising, really, considering that this game was produced by the same team behind Pac-Man Championship Edition. That was another case of an at-first-glance glossy makeover breaking away to reveal a truly different experience; one that even managed to absorb those that didn’t share the majority’s adulation of Namco’s yellow pellet-chomper. Hidden under some mediocre techno was an exciting game that managed to capture the reason people have been popping quarters into those machines since the game’s debut.


Galaga Legions is about as drastic, as far as differences go. No longer do you play screen-by-screen assaults on the imposing and occasionally descending Galaga forces. Rather, you advance through the game in a series of stages, each containing a challenging array of waves that enter the screen in patterns that become faster and more erratic as you move on. Space Invaders Extreme might actually be a more effective comparison than Pac-Man, since it shares a similar style of progression.


It would be impossible to survive in this new world if Legions kept the old familiar gameplay mechanics that have made Galaga an arcade staple all these years. Instead of hammering away at the fire button from the bottom of the screen, the player is given free movement, and the real key to success is in controlling the two satellites (think R-Type options) that fire alongside the main ship. Using the right analog stick, you can rapidly change the direction in which you position each satellite, setting them up in just the right spot to make sure they immediately zap an encroaching horde of enemy vessels.


Complicating things a bit more are individual Galaga in each group that will explode and destroy the rest if targeted. Singling these out helps clear a large chunk of the screen, but they don’t make it easy as you get further in the game, hiding the crucial targets deep in a mass of roaring alien ships. If things become too overwhelming, you’ll hopefully be able to shoot down a black hole and suck all of the Galaga on screen into its dark maw, transferring them instantly to your own side and momentarily (until they’re destroyed at least) giving you a little squadron of evil.


Legions hits one of those requisite shooter zen states once you master flicking the stick in the perfect directions for prime satellite placement, and these techniques will certainly differ from player to player. That’s what makes it one of the first games on Xbox Live Arcade since the original Geometry Wars to really ignite a hardcore scoring competition amongst me and my friends. It’s great to play an arcade game again that makes me want to start over from the beginning repeatedly in an attempt to commit the brutal waves to memory and get the highest possible score.


If you do venture down this path of addictive space assault, try out the classic skin for an ideal look, at least as far as I’m concerned. It changes the nondescript future-ships to a really awesome-looking 3-D rendition of the old school Galaga vessels, and makes playing through the game over and over a much more colorful affair. If you don’t venture down this path, well, I can’t guarantee that there are many better XBLA shooters on the horizon. Galaga Legions is an ideal blend of old and new, and should even win over skeptics that don’t like the look after a thorough familiarizing with its intriguing mechanics.

Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco
System: Xbox 360
Available: Now