Indie developers typically chase the generations following the arcades regarding their source of inspiration. We’ve seen mountains upon mountains of “NES throwbacks” in the past ten years, so seeing a brand new title joining Analynn in reviving those golden age aesthetics is incredibly refreshing.
Galacticon, the first game from developer Flynn’s Arcade, was released this week for both PC and Switch. With a look and feel that emulates Bally/Midway’s work from the early 80s (notably Joust and Robotron), it’s clear this team wanted to create a truly authentic experience that could legitimately pass for a lost arcade game. A few of the sound effects are shamelessly borrowed from Space Invaders and the Robotron, as mentioned above, but other than that, it’s just as convincing as Annalynn was.
This single-screen shooter with movement tech closely follows Joust more than anything on the gameplay front. The protagonist can lift off the ground, fly freely throughout the screen at any time, and come equipped with a laser beam covering about half of the playing field. Your goal per each board is to fill up the three spaceships with color-coded hostages, and this is where an additional layer of depth comes in.
There’s a bit of a “Blood and Crips” situation here. The red hostages hate the blue hostages; if they’re stuck together in a pod, they’ll kill each other. The tan hostages are deemed “neutral” but will take sides depending on the composition of the ship. Filling a ship with two, three, or even four of the same kind will grant you a higher bonus. However, you’ll get to squat if they kill each other at the end of the stage tally. This mechanic injects a clever dose of a puzzle into what’s otherwise a hardcore single-screen shm’up.
On top of lining up your ships with the same color of hostages, you can score even more points by finding the “Secret Bonus” on each board during the second half that triggers after filling the ships. You’ll have to experiment here- the game never outright tells you what criteria you need to meet to get these bonuses.
Galacticon loops upon the destruction of the “final boss” waiting on stage 8 with increased difficulty as with any legitimate arcade game. However, there’s more at play here than just faster/spongier enemies. Upon starting stage 9/the second loop of the game, a new enemy type is introduced- Drillers. Unlike most of the other enemies, which are airborne, these guys pop out of the ground and attempt to drill holes into the sides of your ships. If they succeed, one of your hostages will die, forcing you to find another to fill the void. Although they go down quickly in loop 2, they take numerous hits to kill off and resurface at a high rate by loop 4.
Considering Galacticon is modeled around an era of video games designed to kill you in under a minute to keep the quarters coming, it is a pleasant surprise that it doesn’t start off “arcade hard .” The first loop is relatively nice, and the score cap for earning extra lives incentivizes playing just well enough without demanding perfection to keep a new player going. In addition, anyone could reasonably see the game through to its “end” at least once, whereas later loops feel like what the game may have started on had it been released back in the day.
This makes the experience worthy of competition. The developer promises a $500 grand prize and “a lot of games” for whoever lands the number one spot on the online high score leaderboards by December 1 of this year. In addition, those inclined can scan the QR code provided upon getting a Game Over to have their score uploaded and gain some unlockable content and tips for getting the all-elusive secret bonuses.
Galacticon might have had a quiet release compared to other retro-inspired indie games. Still, the authentic presentation and infectiously addictive gameplay loop assure it’s well worth your time for its meager asking price. The more contemporary approach to difficulty also ensures that anyone can have fun with it without having to sink an hour in just to make it a few screens further. I genuinely hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle regarding the indie scene because we don’t get titles like this too often in a post-pandemic world.