Galaxian is an arcade game developed by Namco in 1979 and released in the United States by Midway. Galaxian was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Taito’s Space Invaders and was also a fixed, space shooter game. It differed from Space Invaders in that it was a RGB color game and the aliens would break away from formation and ‘dive bomb’ your ship. The RGB color screen with multi-color sprites and scrolling star background was considered ‘ground breaking’ for 1979. The Galaxian arcade units were powered by a Z80 CPU and the game was ported to nearly every home console of the era, including the Atari 2600 and 5200, and the Colecovision.
Namco followed up Galaxian with 1981’s Galaga. Galaga was similar to Galaxian, but added some new features such as additional alien flying patterns and ‘challenging stages’, which occur periodically during the game. They also added the ‘tractor beam’ where your ship can be captured. This adds a cool twist to the game as, if you have additional lives, you can kill the alien to get your ship back and it will attach to your current ship to give you double the fire power. With more complicated alien movements, Galaga arcade units used three Z80 CPU’s and two sound generators. Galaga was a smash hit for Namco and ported to a number of home consoles including the NES and the Atari 7800.
In 1983, Atari released Galaxian for the 2600. The 2600 version was a pretty good port, given the hardware limitations of the VCS. The one thing that bugs me about the 2600 port, is the crazy yellow borders; I am not sure what Atari was thinking with these. Fortunately, more than one gamer has ‘hacked’ Galaxian to improve the appearance of the game. Jess Ragan’s Galaxian Arcade improves both movement and graphics to be much closer to the arcade version. Nukey and KevinMos3 have teamed up to produce an even more arcade perfect version of Galaxian for the 2600. You can check out both of these versions at AtariAge.
5200 owners were not left out as Atari developed a pretty good port of Galaxian as one of the release games for the 5200. The 5200 version doesn’t have any of the cool start screens of the arcade, but the graphics and game play are well done. Given that the 5200 has a Pokey chip for 4 channel sound, the sounds could have been programmed to be closer to the arcade, but it is still a fun game to play. If you have a good joystick, you will not have any control issues with Galaxian, but this version also supports the 5200 Trak-ball. I have played Galaxian with both the standard 5200 joystick and a Trak-ball and it is fun to play either way.
Galxian was not ported to the 7800, but Galaga was one of the first dozen release titles for the 7800. Like many of the early release games for the 7800, it was programmed by General Computer Corporation. Galaga for the 7800 was positively received by many, but panned by others as not being arcade perfect. Comparing the 7800 version to the arcade version reveals differences, but none that detract from the game play. In fact, Galaga is one of my favorite games for the 7800 and is a pretty awesome port when you take into account that compromises had to be made as the arcade units had three CPU’s versus one for the 7800. Galaga utilizes a single fire button, so you can play it with your CX40 or Flashback joysticks.
If you have a 2600, then you should pick a copy of Galaxian or Galaxian Arcade. If you have a 7800, you should pick up both Galaxian and Galaga. Also, no 5200 owner should be without a copy of Galaxian in their collection. Since millions of copies of Galaxian and Galaga were produced, they are easy to find and are still readily available for purchase at relatively low prices!