Very Punny – Find more than just references to arcade shoot ’em ups with Galagan’s Island.
Indie developer Skinny Jean Death has been getting some press for Galagan’s Island beyond potential infringement lawsuits. The real press stems from the fact that it was designed by 13-year-old named Jonathan Cunningham with help from his father. Impressive. When I was thirteen I was too busy playing games on my Game Boy Color to even consider designing my own game. Galagan’s Island is an interesting choice of genre for someone so young, and making a reference to one of the most revered arcade titles of all time is an easy way to set the bar for your game high. It’s a tough line to skate but Galagan’s Island isn’t what you’d expect.
First things first Galagan’s island isn’t a literal recreation of the shoot-em-ups you know. For starters, the button mashing is gone. The firing is done by turning on and off your cannons, all you’re required to do is fly around. If you continue firing for long periods of time, however, your turret will overheat and you’ll have no choice but to fly around with no offense for a few seconds. In the current build the game doesn’t have any lives but a health bar for every time your ship gets hit. The game isn’t as much about high scores and skill as it is blasting your way through huge scale battles and with this you take a serious beating throughout the game. Other shoot-em-ups leave me paranoid and zig-zagging, but on certain occasions Galagan’s Island gave me little choice but to kamikaze into a pile of enemies or in the way of fire just so I could even hit something. It took me a second to adjust to this shift in tone, but I realized the game wasn’t attempting to ape these games so much as homage them in a manner more subtle than you’d expect from something called “GALAGAn’s Island”.
Before you get your joystick in a twist know that the references and nods are still there. The ship you fly looks very similar to the fighters in Galaga and your “ships” can be captured and rewarded. You get different power ups that split your fire beam and give you giant laser attacks via R-Type and Gradius. There’s even a Sinistar to laugh at you when you’ve died. The thing about these points is that they’re not as common as you’d expect so it’s a nice surprise when something pops up. The ship capture is a bit different as well. On one occasion I ended up with ships side by side and another time one was facing down underneath my main fighter. This came especially helpful in levels where enemies fly out from directly below where your ship sits.
The game seems simple enough, but there are a few hurdles I had to get over to get comfortable with the game. Playing a shoot-em-up really doesn’t feel as good if you don’t get to mash the fire button. Another interesting choice is the way the ship flies. You have the ability to fly anywhere on screen but rather than stay fixed where you fly your ship you get pulled back to the bottom of the screen like there’s a bungee cord attached. Even flying left to right feels a bit weighty and I didn’t love how it all controlled. The graphics are a highlight as well though a bit more cartoony than you may expect. The thing about Galagan’s Island is it has so much going on on-screen at once. There are so many enemies immediately and as you shoot into the hordes of colorful creatures they explode into even more bright and colorful pixels. My biggest irk playing the game occurred during the big fights. When you blow up enemies the whole screen shakes like a chase scene in a found-footage film. It gives the game more pop and I see why it was included, but with so much going on in front of you it becomes so hard to focus on where you are and where you’re going. The music in the game is very good but it sounds a lot like multiple people put together the soundtrack without consulting one another. As you boot the game up the music is pretty much what you’d expect from a retro styled title. In-game music is also on the retro side of things but it changes from level to level and keeps it fresh. I genuinely enjoyed most of this. Once in a while hip-hop beats get thrown in and the end credits give you a full blown rap song lyrics and all. It feels a little out of place but for the most part the game music is really great despite the uneven presentation.
Galagan’s Island may not be perfect but it still manages to be enjoyable. It isn’t a replacement for any of the shoot-em-ups we’ve played in the past, and it was a smart move on the developer’s part to try and do something different rather than copy the formula. The game is constantly being updated, and even over the course of weeks that I played it to review, new things kept popping up. There’s a local co-op mode so you can create even more on screen chaos and fireworks with a buddy. For a few measly bucks if you even have a passing interest in space shooters you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Forever Humble Productions ; Developer: Skinny Jean Death; Players: 1-2; Released:May 21, 2015 ; MSRP: $4.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Galagan’s Island provided by Skinny Jean Death. The game is still in early access and subject to change.