RETRO REBOOT SHMUPtember VERSUS - Galaga vs Space Invaders

What would a month focusing on SHMUPs would be if I didn't speak of the origins of the genre, some of the grandfathers. Shooters were some of the earlier computer games that provided a foot in the door of more elaborate programming. Space War!, developed in 1962 on a PDP-1 computer, follows Pong as being one of the first video games made. It was later developed for arcades in the 70's, but it wasn't until Taito's Tomohiro Nishikado created Space Invaders that the genre was truly coined (at least according to historians). Space Invaders took arcades by storm, leading Namco to answer with Galaxian, a very similar style fixed shooter. The success of Galaxian lead to a sequel that would topple the original in popularity, the juggernaut known as Galaga. I wasn't alive at the time, but it would've been amazing to witness which cabinet commanded the most attention.

Graphics: When it comes to visuals, it's probably not fair towards Space Invaders, as Galaxian and Galaga were developed with more sophisticated tech. Galaxian was one of the first video games to be programmed with RGB color graphics. The microcomputers in Japan at the time weren't savvy, and Nishikado had to build his own computer and microprocessors.

Galaga certainly has more visual flair and pop to go along with some very fluid animation. Space Invaders is more monochrome and overlays were used to create colors. I really wished I was old enough to be totally aware of the use of overlays in video games were required to add some atmosphere to the simplistic graphics. By the time I was old enough, they were long gone and most Atari games we bought were used or handed down, so I don't recall having many out-of-the-box titles. 

This was one of the beauties of the time period. Sure, prettier graphics were impressive, but Space Invaders' simplistic color palate builds an amazing aesthetic relationship. Between your green ship and the several barriers, it's that much more daunting to see the seemingly endless walls of pigmentless aliens closing in on you. The odds look hopeless, and you must overcome these insurmountable odds. Yes, Galaga looks better in virtually every way, but I give the edge to Space Invaders because the process of whittling down the enemy forces that are immediately thrust upon you. As opposed to the aliens in Galaga, who fly towards you in amazing choreographed patterns. Point for Space Invaders!  

SOUND: While music is minimal, the audio ques and composition are pretty legendary for both games. Galaga has fantastic fanfare that plays when completing a stage, it makes me feel triumphant, like I finally accomplished something with my life. Or when the enemy captures your ship, it sounds like drastic peril has ensued. 

Now, whereas I have no problem giving the nod to Galaga here, my personal tastes lean toward Space Invaders for its creativity. The music and tempo is in synch with the enemies' movements and as it speeds up, the beat intensifies. It's psychologically impactful as the aliens get closer, their movements become even harder to read, and your shot is methodical. Unlike Galaga, you can only get off a single shot, so you must be accurate! I'm going to give this a TIE!! yeah, I'm copping out here as a total fence sitter, but they're amazing for each game.

CHALLENGE: Space Invaders feels a little more daunting to me than Galaga, the former really plays on one's patience and execution. In Galaga, I can get on a roll and be pretty dialed in, until I get cocky and make a blunder. If I miss a shot in Space Invaders, that has really strong implications for my ability to make up for lost time, which is more finite than one would think. Not to take anything away from the skill involved in Galaga, the ability to gain an additional ship augments you ability to survive, making your margin of error a little larger. Controlling your ship feels pretty similar, Galaga is of course faster and you can get more shots off. So I feel Space Invaders is the tougher game to run up a score. Point for Space Invaders.


Both of these games have had a profound impact on not just video games, but served as a slice of Americana back in the quarter-munching days of arcades. Even by early to mid 2000's, it wouldn't be uncommon to find an old cabinet in an Aladdin's Castle getting as much play as Mahvel vs Capcom 2. They're pop culture callbacks that anyone born within the last 25-35 years would immediately familiar with in entertainment, even if your time with the games are brief. Who does it better?

Futurama: In the episode Anthology of Interest II, Fry battles the Space Invaders

Amazing World of Gumball: Gumball and Darwin give their cellphone number to Octo, an aggressive alien that resembles the enemies you take down.

There's that derailing line "That man is playing Galaga" from Stark in The Avengers. I like that kind of non sequitur humor.

Another brief reference is found in the anime Space Dandy, an alien musician is searching for his muse, and ends up playing the Galaga theme.

There's more substance in the Space Invaders references, so perhaps being a predecessor gives it that weight. The Galaga clips are probably easier to meme, and are still pretty funny.

I give the overall edge to Space Invaders. I personally enjoyed it a little more throughout my life. Galaga is certainly more sleek and modern (it was one of the NES games my mom played a lot back in the day), and I don't like to just GIVE the award to the innovator and say it's better than anything that succeeds it (my controversial opinions on Mega Man being an outdated relic can attest to that. Shovel Knight and Shantae render him irrelevant), but running up the score in Space Invaders feels so much more rewarding to me. Of course, this is my humble opinion, I could be wrong.

Which do you prefer? Feel free to share your take. 

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