From the vaults of the sadly defunct Engadget Public Access, here is my article about the 1980’s Arcade Classic, Galaxian. The article was shared multiple times across the platform, spent 6 weeks in the top 3 articles and was lauded by the editor.
Video game nostalgia trips – Galaxian
My first experience of true arcade games was at the fairground. I grew up in the small market town of Hitchin in Hertfordshire in the UK and every year Stanley Thurston’s fair would arrive for a couple of weeks. The fair would camp out on a piece of ‘common’ land called Butt’s Close. My first memories of ‘The Fair’ was walking around with my parents, there was a feeling of excitement and atmosphere at the fair, possibly caused by the smell of candy floss and loud music blaring from the rides. The elation of winning a goldfish and then carefully carrying around until you got home only for it to inevitably die hours later from shock. All the same, there was an amazing feeling about the fairground almost equal to the annual Carnival.
We always went to the fair as a family, but as I grew a little older, moving into my early teens, the journey to the fair with my parents started to be complimented by additional trips with my friends on other nights. The magnet drawing us to this magical place wasn’t the thrill of the rides or the prizes for knocking over coconuts. There was something much more interesting going on in the mobile arcades, places which were once solely the domain of fruit machines but now something else was eating away their space, something far more alluring and simple breathtaking.
On a ‘parent free’ night, Anthony, Michael, Andrew and myself would walk from the street where we lived to Butts Close, it was a fifteen minute walk which gave us time for the excitement and anticipation to build, as we walked around the corner from the swimming pool the fairground suddenly loomed in all it’s multi coloured glory, a mix of sights and sounds which became progressively louder as we walked across the grass towards the bustling mix of music, laughter and peculiar electronic sounds. We headed eagerly to the source of these sounds, we felt like we were walking into the future.
The arcades back in 1980 were full of a new breed of entertainment. Machine after machine lined every square foot of these buildings. Each one entrancing their player in a mix of colourful graphics and amazing sound effects, from the ultimately recognisable Space Invaders with it’s booming bass line to the apocalyptic Defender (always on full volume) and Missile Command to the quirky Frogger and Centipede, every game enthralled the player, but none so much to me as Galaxian.
Galaxian has everything you could ever wish for from an arcade game, it was simply Space Invaders on steroids, black and white graphics replaced by elaborate animated multicoloured sprites with complex sound effects. From the moment a coin was inserted into the slot triggering a wonderful sound effect you were entering a whole new experience.
With credits inserted, the start screen was displayed, immediately tempting you with a BONUS for achievement, I could barely wait another second, knowing my senses were to be lifted to another level of excitement by what was to come. Finally I pressed START, with this the screen cleared to the left hand side accompanied by the wonderful melodic theme, whilst simultaneously displaying row upon row of aliens ready to attack at any moment!.
I was a Galaxian and my mission was simple, I must destroy these Aliens. I was humanities last hope!
Wave upon wave of Aliens would descend in elaborate formation down the screen, split second timing was required to dodge or destroy these ships that were hell bent on my demise either my firing or simply crashing into me. Once fired, your weapon would not reload again until the laser bolt had made contact with the enemy of disappeared from the screen, this taught you to take care with each shot, making every one of them count. Some ships were worth more than others with regular attacks by a trio of more valuable and more accurate enemy, shoot these in the correct order and you could earn yourself a hefty bonus.
As each wave of aliens was cleared, it was followed by a short pause, enough to calm your nerves followed by a new wave of the enemy, this time faster, more eager, more dangerous ending with the inevitable destruction of your ship and the depletion of your 3 credits and the ultimate soul destroying “GAME OVER”.
Galaxian was available to play as 1 or 2 player, with the latter simply a ‘turn taking’ exercise with entirely separate games between ‘lives’. I played the game in the traditional arcade cabinet and also the more interesting ‘coffee table’ set up with the screen flipping 180 degrees in 2 player mode, extremely popular in pubs and cafes as you could place your beer on the glass to take your turn.
The game set a precedent for others to follow, the look and feel of Galaxian would be used as a template for games that followed for years to come and I think this is why I hold Galaxian in such high esteem. It wasn’t the first shoot-em-up, but it was the first full colour animated game that dragged you into it’s gameplay leaving you begging for more. Galaxian will always remind me of my younger years and even now, the beautiful theme tune and screaming aliens takes me back to the arcade on Butts Close.