Everyone remembers the first computer game they played. Mine was Galaxy on the Commodore 64.
It was 1984 and I really wanted a computer. My school had a BBC Micro; a few people had a ZX Spectrum; my uncle had a VIC 20. But what I wanted was the awesome sounding Commodore 64.
A couple of shops in town sold it. Upton’s, the North East’s own department store chain, had a range of computers hooked up to TVs and monitors. I remember typing my name out, bewildered by the lack of a space bar, despite it being right in front of me.
I suppose I was just excited.
Another store, local electrical and photography specialise McKenna and Brown, also sold the C64. This package was more affordable, bundled with a cheaper datasette substitute, a tape with four programs on, and the Galaga clone, Galaxy.
Released by Anirog in 1983, the game is a slower interpretation of Galaga, and one that literally slows when too many sprites are on screen. This tends to happen after the fifth stage, where the aliens become more aggressive and with their suicidal bombing.
Galaxy on the Commodore 64 (there was a later C16 version) features a key difference to Galaga, namely the addition of a “bonus stage” every three levels. In these scenarios, the aliens don’t shoot, instead lining up in various ways for easy pot shots, helping you to bump up your score and grab a vital extra life.
Galaxy gives you three lives to start with, although there is a turn-based two player option if hitting the F1 button to start a new game becomes tiresome.
I seem to recall playing Galaxy to around level 10 way back when, although this was a level of skill unattained until I hit my teens, when I could rely on my Action Replay cartridge. These days cheat modes present less of a moral quandary.
Even in emulators, the game struggles to perform. Certainly, its inability to handle too many sprites and subsequent slowdowns makes the game a bit of a frustrating revisit, just like the orignal. This begs the question: was it play-tested to any significant degree by Anirog?
In their defence, a ton of subpar games were released as the home computer boom took hold. Even into the 16- and 32-bit eras it was a problem, and let’s be fair, looking at the mobile gaming scene, it’s a problem that will probably always be with us.
Playing Galaxy in an emulator
To remind myself of the game’s playability (and to record the footage above), I loaded up Galaxy on a C64 emulator on Android. This was easy enough, with the game available from various online resources.
Touchscreen controls don’t really suit the game (no surprises there) and it took a remarkably long time to reach the classic “Fighter Captured” moment – stage 14! Playthrough here used the pre-load cheat mode as I’m horribly out of practice.
The squeals of the aliens and the “new life” alert are as important to this game’s tapestry as the simple-but-effective graphics. It isn’t the slickest, fastest, or most fun gaming experience. But Galaxy was my first computer game on my first computer, so holds a special place.
Galaxy: pretty much as I remember
Good or bad, Galaxy is a game that I occasionally return to regardless. It reminds me of 1984, the excitement of my dad bringing home the C64, its polystyrene interior packaging, and the small brown wheeled coffee table we kept it on.
And as I was only allowed to play on the computer on a Saturday (that changed later on!), I’m also reminded of that legendary British aroma of fish and chips on a Saturday lunchtime. Oh, and the frustration of waiting 20 minutes for a game to load…
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine and MakeUseOf.com.