Last year, Namco Bandai released a Windows Phone-exclusive port of XBLA/PSN hit Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. I was concerned about the amount of content that was needlessly cut from the port and its high price, but still gave it a positive review and named it a Must-Have title. More than a year (and several intermediate releases) later, Namco follows up with Galaga Legions DX. Like Pac-Man CE DX before it, this latest release is an exclusive port of a console title and it carries the seldom-used $6.99 price. However, this version of Galaga doesn’t quite reach the same standards of quality as Pac-Man CE DX, making it a much tougher sell.
Updating the granddaddy of all shoot-em-ups
While Pac-Man CE DX plays closely to the original game, Galaga Legions DX strays much further. Players still pilot a solitary ship as it takes on waves of enemy ‘Galaga’ ships that approach from all sides. Preceding each wave are one or more neon lines that show exactly what paths the enemies will take. This lets you prepare a strategy and quickly act upon it because like Pac-Man CE DX you’re now working under a time limit.
Another change from previous Galagas is the way you dispatch enemies. Instead of shooting down every single one, the actual goal is to kill specific leader ships, which destroys the whole batch of baddies. Bomb ships also clear groups of enemies and prove essential in dispatching their leaders in a hurry. Finding the fastest way to clear leaders and thus, waves almost feels like a puzzle at times. The change in focus from downing all enemies to specific targets takes some getting used to, but it fits Legions DX’s speedier, more stylized approach to gameplay.
Eye in the sky
The hero’s ship is no longer restricted to firing single shots straight up thanks to its two satellites. These spit out their own shots, bolstering your firepower. They can be positioned in a number of different ways, broken down into A and B configurations. The A type allows players to direct the ship and satellite’s fire in one of 8 directions. B type points the satellites in separate directions from the ship’s fire, spreading your shot output.
Toggling between A and B configuration types is easily accomplished by tapping a button at the right side of the screen. Positioning the satellites, which would have been done with the right analog stick on the Xbox 360 is handled here by a virtual stick of sorts. The virtual stick only offers 8 positions instead of analog control, but it works well enough. You can adjust the size of the stick (a plus), but I wish the A-B toggle button could be moved a bit farther from the stick.
Legions DX’s satellite controls might be decent, but I can’t say the same for the ship’s movement controls. Instead of a virtual stick for the left thumb, you just press and drag on the left side of the screen to move. That would be fine in and of itself, if it just controlled properly.
In most games with a similar control approach, wherever you place your thumb would count as a temporary neutral position. Then swiping up would move up, and so on. What happens in Legions DX is hard to describe, but just putting your thumb down counts as a directional press instead of creating a neutral position. Not only that, but the ship movement seems to lag behind whatever swipes you make. Legions DX’s movement controls are seriously the worst I’ve ever encountered in a phone game, narrowly out-crapping Earthworm Jim’s poorly-positioned virtual stick.
These woes sap the fun and add an unintended degree of challenge to the game. That said, a slow-motion mechanic sometimes alleviates the frustration of steering. Just like Pac-Man CE DX, when enemies or their fire get too close to the ship, the game briefly goes into slow motion. This gives players a chance to run away and live to fight another day. Except the slow-mo here doesn’t always work. Sometimes an enemy will just smack into you before you’ve had time to react – perhaps it depends on the foe’s velocity.
Remember how Pac-Man CE DX lost a bunch of its content on the way to Windows Phone? Sadly, Legions DX follows the same formula, less forgivably so because the XBLA version of Galaga Legions DX is already a weaker game than Pac-Man CE DX.
Instead of 10 unique areas, Championship, and Time Attack modes, this version boasts only three areas and Championship Mode. The latter is basically a longer, harder area composed of waves from the three previous areas.
Each area contains five levels that must be played through in a row. Levels consist of multiple waves of enemies. You’re allotted a certain amount of time for the first four levels (either two or three minutes) – whatever time you have left over after the last wave gets added to your fifth level time. Level five has 99 waves, so the objective is to reach it with as much time as possible in order to maximize your score.
A potentially cool element - enemy ships joining the player's side - goes woefully underused, taking place only in the fifth level of areas 1-3 and Championship mode. The helper ships die so quickly, you'll scarcely know they were ever there.
Default visual style
Legions DX features a colorful neon style that doesn’t much evoke the look of the original Galaga, unlike Pac-Man CE DX. Still, you can at least replace the newer, 3D ship art with sprite sets from either Galaga or its 1979 predecessor Galaxian. Both choices give the game a slightly more nostalgic appearance if not feeling. The XBLA game had six visual styles though, meaning three got left behind for no reason.
The Achievements here involve clearing each area and Championship, doing so on Expert difficulty, and reaching high score milestones on each area and Championship. The enemies move faster on Expert difficulty and players get fewer lives, but it’s still beatable (especially if you try to reach level 5 with as little time as possible).
The high score goals present the real challenge. Without memorizing an area’s waves, it can be tough to accrue enough points before time runs out. Championship mode is even worse since it goes on much longer and seriously ramps up the difficulty on level five. Compounding it all are the terrible controls I lamented earlier. Still, by following videos and perhaps our handy Achievement Guide, you might just live long enough to reach that golden score.
Galaga Legions DX is an interesting and sometimes fun game marred by its monstrously bad controls. It’s as if the developers had never played a mobile phone game before and didn’t bother to play this one much either. Hopefully Namco Bandai releases a patch to fix the steering up and gives the porting team a stern talking to. Even without control issues, the smaller number of areas compared to the console versions gives the game a much shorter shelf life.
The lofty price just compounds everything else. A platform’s highest price point should be reserved for its strongest titles. A game with terribad controls that you can finish in about six hours or less doesn’t cut it. Considering how the WP7 Legions DX lacks two thirds of the console version’s content and yet costs only a third less, it doesn’t represent a great value. If a patch or price drop ever comes along (hopefully both), arcade and shmup fans may want to pick this DX up.
Galaga Legions DX costs a whopping $6.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace.