When Galaga first burst onto the scene back in 1981, it garnered almost instant popularity due to its intense shooting action and almost endless level of variety and challenge. Gone were the days where a fixed group of aliens sluggishly moved side to side as you shot them down one by one. The aliens in Galaga came swarming into the screen from all sides and at blistering speeds. The game brought a new type of intensity to the arcade shooting genre that had been missing from many of the other arcade shooters of the time period.
So how did Namco follow up their arcade hit? They created a sequel that featured many of the same game play ideas, but with a few new twists thrown in for good measure. But despite the new game play ideas and added intensity Gaplus brought to the table, the game just never captured the hearts of arcade shooter fans the same way Galaga had. In fact, many arcades ended up bringing back the original Galaga cabinets to replace the largely-ignored sequel. So how does a game that didn't exactly light up sales charts during its original release hold up 25 years later on Nintendo's Virtual Console service?
If you've played the original Galaga title, you'll have a good idea of what to expect from the game play in Gaplus. The aliens still come swirling in from all directions as you attempt to shoot them down. As you progress further into the game, the swirling patterns become more intricate and the kamikaze alien dives become more frequent and intense. You'll shoot your way through the game's regular levels and every so often you'll square off in a Challenge Wave level. Instead of taking out the aliens, you'll merely try to bounce your shot off of them in order to spell out certain bonus words like "Gaplus" or "Double" which will win you big points and extra ships if you're successful.
But for all of the similarities between Gaplus and its predecessor, there are quite a few differences also, many of which didn't exactly go over well with arcade fans when the game was first released. The first difference is the way in which your ship moves. Instead of only being able to move side-to-side, in Gaplus your ship can move up and down as well, at least up to the halfway point of the screen. While this can make shooting the alien swarms easier at times, it can also be very dangerous given the unpredictable patterns of the alien swarms.
Another game play change was the way your ship could be powered up. Instead of allowing your ship to be captured by enemy tractor beams and then rescuing it for added firepower, as you did in the original Galaga, this time around you have to shoot the alien queen in order to release the power up she's carrying. One of the main power-ups that you can make use of is the tractor beam. Now you can turn the tables on the aliens and use your tractor beam to pull them in and take control of their firepower for your own use. The more aliens you can capture, the more firepower you can harness, which can be quite useful during the game's later levels and challenge stages.
While the control itself is smooth and responsive, the difficulty ramps up rather quickly and gives the game a slightly frustrating edge that wasn't present in the original Galaga. Perhaps this difficulty was one of the reasons the game didn't gain popularity with arcade fans during its short run in arcades. The new game play ideas are interesting, but there's just something missing from Gaplus that you just can't really put a finger on. It just doesn't have that "it" factor that Galaga had and ultimately comes off feeling more like a cheap Galaga clone than an improved sequel.
The visuals in Gaplus look and feel almost exactly like those found in the original Galaga. The backgrounds are still nothing more than black backgrounds with tiny stars strung around for effect and many of the aliens themselves look like they were plucked straight out of Galaga. The sound effects have a familiar ring to them, even if they are a bit different from the original Galaga title, and are pretty much the standard arcade fare from the time period. Much like the game play itself, they too just don't quite have the catchiness of those found in the first Galaga release.
If you're one of those gamers that just can't get enough of Galaga, Gaplus is definitely a game you'll want to at least check out. It's basically more of the same with a few odd new game play twists tossed into the mix. It would have been nice for Namco to have maybe built on the existing ideas from the original game a bit more, but it's difficult to fault them for at least trying a few different things with this sequel, even if they're not exactly executed very well. If you're smart, you'll stick with the original Galaga and allow Gaplus to go the way of other ill-developed sequels that were never quite able to live up to their predecessors.