Review: ‘Galaga Fever’ Turns Namco’s Iconic IP Into An Unfulfilling VR Jaunt

Galaga Fever's set up

'Galaga Fever' now features at Hollywood Bowl in the U.K., alongside a number of other locations.

Matt Gardner

There are few things that would get old-school gamers excited like the prospect of a modern, immersive, VR adaptation of an arcade classic, combining the old and new.

What’s more, there are few games of the golden age of gaming as iconic as Galaga, the 1981 fixed shooter with perhaps the best intro music of all time.

So, we now have Galaga Fever, which finally landed on these British shores in the late summer, as part of its Bandai Namco-enabled VR world tour, which includes a sole U.S. location in Irvine, CA.

Question is, does it deliver the thrills of the standing cabinets of old?

Yeah, about that.

The global VR Zone rollout

As I explained in my (gasp) first-ever article for Forbes.com, Bandai Namco has partnered with Hollywood Bowl–the U.K.’s chain of 60 ten-pin bowling alleys–to operate its two VR Zone Portals in London and Leeds. Much like their international equivalents, these cycle through several HTC Vive-supported VR experiences, though both permanently host the superb (if limited) Mario Kart VR across each of its sites.

Early demonstrations at the entertaining, arcade-driven Hollywood Bowl in Leeds included the confusing, claustrophobic and balloon-fetishistic Panic Cube and the wonderfully entertaining, Da Vinci-meets-Hyrule-esque Winged Bicycle. Recently, they were changed out for something different, and Galaga Fever was one of them.

In Leeds, the more physical cube puzzler has been switched out for the utterly terrifying Hospital Escape Terror, Bandai Namco’s first VR arcade experience and an experience true to its name. Gone are Winged Bicycle's exercise bikes fitted with Dyson Airblade-esque wind machines and, for Galaga Fever, they’re replaced with a very simple flat platform and a wall of fans, which faces the gamers strapping on their Vive headsets and picking up the surprisingly weighty guns.

Spot the story

There feels like there’s even less of a story in Galaga Fever than in the original Galaga, which didn’t really have one. According to the official description of the game, this is what you’ve got to expect from Fever:

Mysterious aliens from Galaga are attacking the Earth! The genius scientist Dr. Mad has prepared for this day with a super elevator that takes you 150m into the atmosphere! But be careful, the elevator is constantly under attack by the enemy! With new weapons provided by Dr. Mad, you and a partner set out to shoot down as many alien attackers as you can!!

Bandai Namco's description of 'Galaga Fever'

While it’s easy to hope that the whole “Dr. Mad” name was a translation error, the game’s designers really have gone for the most generic mad scientist look, crossing Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd with Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty, which itself was based on a Justin Roiland parody of BttF.

From there, you’re whisked up in the elevator and ready to face the inimitable enemies of Galaga.

The game experience

In Galaga Fever, there’s no danger of dying or losing. There’s no skill or accuracy required. Instead, you and a fellow player have a gun, which regularly gets upgraded, and it’s your job to shoot anything that moves.

Underfoot, the platform whirs and jerks, giving you the real feeling you’re being transported to a great height. All the while, the fan wall, which really does a marvelous job of making you feel like you’re high up, doubles as a sensory experience for explosions and incoming Galagans. Throughout, it fires pops of air your way–rather loud ones, in fact–to accentuate both their impact and yours.

But aside from the clever technology to make you feel like you really are where you are, the cartoonish graphics and lack of gameplay firmly entrenches this in “experience” territory; there’s no real “game” about it. Sure, holding and shooting a real-feel gun is always a laugh, but the chuckles die down quickly.

This was best exemplified by the laser beam weapon, a later-stage upgrade which, combined with the insurmountable, screen-clouding Galagan waves, is best flailed around in all directions to mow down the aliens, even though it doesn’t seem to have any real effect. Following it is a Fat Man-style rocket launcher, which “completes” the experience as you take on a huge Boss Galaga–an underwhelming end to a confusing take on one of Namco’s most famous titles.

Galaga Fever and Bandai Namco appear to have forgotten their roots

Namco is a truly legendary company, but Galaga Fever demonstrates its modern-day disconnect with the IPs that made it what it is. It doesn’t make sense to add the veneer of Galaga to a game that simply isn’t that; it doesn’t satisfy its original fans, and it doesn’t deliver anything fresh to newcomers.

What’s more, Galaga is an iconic and challenging, but ultimately high-score driven, game–much like all of Namco’s old cabinets. Without a score tally, and no skill or wave mechanic to maximize the score you could potentially get, there’s no reason to return to the game once the initial experience is over.

Of course, VR technology is still in its formative stages, and a long way off being accurate enough to make it as incisive as it may need to be for this better approach. But imperfections were also found in the arcades, and it’s just another feature that everyone experiences, creating a level playing field.

With a VR adaptation of Galaga, the experience doesn’t need guns; it needs a flight stick with in-built trigger, a bucket seat to sit in, and the simulation of your “ship” moving on a linear track from side to side, while waves of Galagans descend on you as they did in the 80s. Galaga, Space Invaders and their contemporaries are still classics for a reason, and not attempting to put the gamer in a cockpit is baffling.

Bandai Namco needs to start with the basic allure of its original IPs and work from there. All manner of bells and whistles can be added where necessary, but there’s a reason these games were so popular in the first place: they were simple.

Galaga Fever is the wrong kind of simple, and to build an ongoing fanbase for the fun yet pricey VR gaming market (£7.99/$9.80 per 12-minute experience), it needs to provide a reason for return. Just shooting at anything, with no sense of danger, doesn’t deliver that.

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There are few things that would get old-school gamers excited like the prospect of a modern, immersive, VR adaptation of an arcade classic, combining the old and new.

What’s more, there are few games of the golden age of gaming as iconic as Galaga, the 1981 fixed shooter with perhaps the best intro music of all time.

So, we now have Galaga Fever, which finally landed on these British shores in the late summer, as part of its Bandai Namco-enabled VR world tour, which includes a sole U.S. location in Irvine, CA.

Question is, does it deliver the thrills of the standing cabinets of old?

Yeah, about that.

The global VR Zone rollout

As I explained in my (gasp) first-ever article for Forbes.com, Bandai Namco has partnered with Hollywood Bowl–the U.K.’s chain of 60 ten-pin bowling alleys–to operate its two VR Zone Portals in London and Leeds. Much like their international equivalents, these cycle through several HTC Vive-supported VR experiences, though both permanently host the superb (if limited) Mario Kart VR across each of its sites.

Early demonstrations at the entertaining, arcade-driven Hollywood Bowl in Leeds included the confusing, claustrophobic and balloon-fetishistic Panic Cube and the wonderfully entertaining, Da Vinci-meets-Hyrule-esque Winged Bicycle. Recently, they were changed out for something different, and Galaga Fever was one of them.

In Leeds, the more physical cube puzzler has been switched out for the utterly terrifying Hospital Escape Terror, Bandai Namco’s first VR arcade experience and an experience true to its name. Gone are Winged Bicycle's exercise bikes fitted with Dyson Airblade-esque wind machines and, for Galaga Fever, they’re replaced with a very simple flat platform and a wall of fans, which faces the gamers strapping on their Vive headsets and picking up the surprisingly weighty guns.

Spot the story

There feels like there’s even less of a story in Galaga Fever than in the original Galaga, which didn’t really have one. According to the official description of the game, this is what you’ve got to expect from Fever:

Mysterious aliens from Galaga are attacking the Earth! The genius scientist Dr. Mad has prepared for this day with a super elevator that takes you 150m into the atmosphere! But be careful, the elevator is constantly under attack by the enemy! With new weapons provided by Dr. Mad, you and a partner set out to shoot down as many alien attackers as you can!!

Bandai Namco's description of 'Galaga Fever'

While it’s easy to hope that the whole “Dr. Mad” name was a translation error, the game’s designers really have gone for the most generic mad scientist look, crossing Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd with Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty, which itself was based on a Justin Roiland parody of BttF.

From there, you’re whisked up in the elevator and ready to face the inimitable enemies of Galaga.

The game experience

In Galaga Fever, there’s no danger of dying or losing. There’s no skill or accuracy required. Instead, you and a fellow player have a gun, which regularly gets upgraded, and it’s your job to shoot anything that moves.

Underfoot, the platform whirs and jerks, giving you the real feeling you’re being transported to a great height. All the while, the fan wall, which really does a marvelous job of making you feel like you’re high up, doubles as a sensory experience for explosions and incoming Galagans. Throughout, it fires pops of air your way–rather loud ones, in fact–to accentuate both their impact and yours.

But aside from the clever technology to make you feel like you really are where you are, the cartoonish graphics and lack of gameplay firmly entrenches this in “experience” territory; there’s no real “game” about it. Sure, holding and shooting a real-feel gun is always a laugh, but the chuckles die down quickly.

This was best exemplified by the laser beam weapon, a later-stage upgrade which, combined with the insurmountable, screen-clouding Galagan waves, is best flailed around in all directions to mow down the aliens, even though it doesn’t seem to have any real effect. Following it is a Fat Man-style rocket launcher, which “completes” the experience as you take on a huge Boss Galaga–an underwhelming end to a confusing take on one of Namco’s most famous titles.

Galaga Fever and Bandai Namco appear to have forgotten their roots

Namco is a truly legendary company, but Galaga Fever demonstrates its modern-day disconnect with the IPs that made it what it is. It doesn’t make sense to add the veneer of Galaga to a game that simply isn’t that; it doesn’t satisfy its original fans, and it doesn’t deliver anything fresh to newcomers.

What’s more, Galaga is an iconic and challenging, but ultimately high-score driven, game–much like all of Namco’s old cabinets. Without a score tally, and no skill or wave mechanic to maximize the score you could potentially get, there’s no reason to return to the game once the initial experience is over.

Of course, VR technology is still in its formative stages, and a long way off being accurate enough to make it as incisive as it may need to be for this better approach. But imperfections were also found in the arcades, and it’s just another feature that everyone experiences, creating a level playing field.

With a VR adaptation of Galaga, the experience doesn’t need guns; it needs a flight stick with in-built trigger, a bucket seat to sit in, and the simulation of your “ship” moving on a linear track from side to side, while waves of Galagans descend on you as they did in the 80s. Galaga, Space Invaders and their contemporaries are still classics for a reason, and not attempting to put the gamer in a cockpit is baffling.

Bandai Namco needs to start with the basic allure of its original IPs and work from there. All manner of bells and whistles can be added where necessary, but there’s a reason these games were so popular in the first place: they were simple.

Galaga Fever is the wrong kind of simple, and to build an ongoing fanbase for the fun yet pricey VR gaming market (£7.99/$9.80 per 12-minute experience), it needs to provide a reason for return. Just shooting at anything, with no sense of danger, doesn’t deliver that.

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I’m a British writer and avid videogame fan. I run GameTripper, which gives writers the opportunity to share deeply personal stories about individual games and VGM.