Video Game #6: Galaga (1981)
If you apply the rules of evolution to video games, than Galaga wins survival of the fittest. Almost 33 years after it debuted in arcades, it (along with Ms. Pac-Man) can still be found just about anywhere. I know three, maybe four, bars in the area that still have an arcade unit,* and if I wanted a game, I could walk out the door right now and play. It has been ported to every single console platform and smart phones — heck, it even made a cameo appearance as a visual gag in last year’s “Avengers” movie — and though it has received numerous sequels and upgrades, it is the original version that remains popular.* Galaga is the shark of video games, unchanged over time, perfect just the way it is.
Is Galaga still around because it’s popular, or is it popular because it’s still around? It has the same concept as Space Invaders, Centipede, its own predecessor, Galaxian, and a dozen other games, but good luck finding one of those these days. In many ways, it’s its simplicity that kept Galaga going long after more sophisticated machines came and went: one joystick and one fire button, with a ship that can only dance left and right as you dodge wave after wave of swirling alien insects. (Of course, it could just be people really like squashing bugs.) While the invading fleet can capture your ship with a tractor beam, rescuing it back with a well-placed shot gives you two ships to mow down more bugs… excuse me, I think I feel a quarter burning a hole in my pocket. Gotta go.
*To be fair, almost all of the units you see today are the special “Class of ’81” reissue that Namco put out in 2001, that put Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga in the same cabinet. However, a company reissuing an old video game like this is exceedingly rare, and the fact they picked these two titles simply underscores their continuing popularity.