Namco’s Galaga is an arcade classic. It was hard to step into an arcade or a pizza joint in the ’80s and not find a Galaga cabinet. Being a spin-off of Galaxian, it subsequently spawned its own series that continues to this day. However, none of the sequels or remakes are as popular or well known as the original, and perhaps the least known is its immediate successor, Gaplus.
As you probably know, Galaga followed the Space Invaders style of gameplay, in which you move a spaceship back and forth at the bottom of the screen and shoot a formation of aliens near the top. Galaga set itself apart by having aliens that didn’t just stay in formation, but swooped around the screen. Also, it’s most iconic twist was allowing your ship to be captured by an alien tractor beam, and then rescuing it so you could join two ships together to have double firepower.
Gaplus took these basic foundations and radically evolved them. First, you could also move your ship vertically instead of just horizontally. This was necessary, as it’s sometimes the only way to dodge enemy attacks. There are also various power-ups that aliens sometimes drop, such as more powerful shots and forcing the aliens to move in slow motion. There’s also a secret ship that slightly resembles the original ship from Galaxian, which moves faster and can fire three shots at once instead of just two.
In a twist on the tractor beam from Galaga, one of the power-ups allows your ship to equip its own tractor beam to capture the aliens, thus forcing them to fight along side you. You can capture up to six at once, and as you may guess, it’s extremely difficult to dodge bullets with a long line of alien ships at your side.
The way the stages (now called “parsecs”) work is a little different, as well. The aliens still swoop into formation at the beginning of a parsec, but if your ship gets destroyed during this phase, the entire stage starts over. The bonus “Challenging Stages” are also completely different. Instead of simply trying to shoot all enemies as they fly across the screen, you have to “juggle” them. It’s a little hard to explain, and it’s not quite as much fun as in the other games, but it’s still interesting and unique.
If you haven’t guessed already, Gaplus is also much more difficult than the original Galaga. Once you get to Parsec 4, things ramp up dramatically. The aliens get faster, they fire more bullets, there are meteor showers, and in the higher levels, enemies even start firing suicide bullets (they fire back when they’re killed). Sometimes there’s so much stuff flying around on screen, it’s hard to tell what’s going on.
Yet, it’s also a really fun game. I think it gets kind of a bad rep among Galaga fans for being too different, but that’s why I love it. It really feels like a true evolution of concept, which is exactly what a sequel should be. Subsequent games in the series played it safe by reverting to the more basic gameplay of the original Galaga, at least until 2008’s Galaga Legions. Still, Gaplus is worth taking a second look at.
That is, if you can find it. I think I’ve only seen an actual arcade cabinet once, maybe twice, and it’s only been re-released a handful of times. It’s included in a few of the Namco Museum collections, including Volume 2 on the PlayStation, and Remix and Megamix on the Wii. It’s also available as a standalone title on the Wii’s Virtual Console, and for mobile devices (under its alternate name of “Galaga 3”). And if you’re still living in the ’80s, there’s also a Commodore 64 port.