Sunday, July 26, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Gaplus

Gaplus was essentially the swan song to Namco's Galaxian-Galaga series of games. Released to the arcades in 1984, it was essentially "too little and too late" and has never really lived up to the high watermarks set by it's predecessors. That's too bad, as the game itself has some polish and can be quite a blast.

Known to some as "Galaga 3," the stupidly-named Gaplus ("Galaga Plus," you dig?) is a further iteration of the wonderful gameplay refinements put forth in Galaga following ITS predecessor, Galaxian - itself, a genre evolution of the game which started it all, Taito's Space Invaders. Whereas all of the older games limited you to moving a ship left and right along the bottom of a playfield, Gaplus removes that vertical constraint (to a degree) and allows you to move up and down in the lower portion of the playfield.

Galaga's huge hook was that you could sacrifice a ship to be captured by an enemy tractor beam, then "rescue it" and double your firepower, this was monumental. Gaplus tries to build on this by letting you capture several alien fighters at once, but what feels impressive at first becomes awkward and annoying very quickly - it's frustrating trying to maneuver a whole line of warriors along the (relatively) tiny playfield, all in tandem. You get this amazing powerful armada to help you clean up shop, but very quickly you must wrack your nerves trying to protect them rather than concentrating on killing everything.

Gaplus is not a bad game - it looks noticably more polished in the way Galaga was better looking than it's daddy, and the same goes with the sound FX. You can feel how the programming capabilities in these games were starting to get more refined and it feels exciting in that way (yay, we have more toys to play with!) Sadly, they didn't quite catch up so fast with how to properly iterate on their earlier, simpler (yet precise) designs and it shows in a game like this. I mean, Gaplus is fun, it's hard, and it doesn't tiptoe for you - but it does not have that "oh my GOD" grab that Galaga still has to this day, not more than a little shadow of it. Essentially, why play this when you can enjoy the much-more-refined and therefore more gratifying Galaga?

Still, there are those who are Galaga'd out, and still want more - this game was made for those people. It's a little different, it's kind of annoying and sloppy, but it still sticks to enough about what is fun from these types of games and you can get in a good groove with it. I hear there will be an upgrade of it on XBLA or something in the near future, and I look forward to see where they go with the game..!

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