As a child I remember playing Galaxian several times. Each time I think I reached as far as a few levels in and then failed. It was a fun distraction but the arcade formula never struck a chord with me. Understandably I approached Chillaxian ($1.99), by Madgarden, with caution. Can this part spiritual successor/part parody win me over on this classic genre?
Well, that is a tough question. First off, Chillaxian has a lot in-line with its inspiration. You control a spaceship and fire at wave after wave of alien craft. You have extra lives and the pod mechanic, which increases your firepower and chance to be hit. Waves continue to increase in difficulty and eventually you will lose, classic arcade gameplay.
This is more or less where the similarities end; right off the bat you will notice a slew of new mechanics. First, the aliens swarm in an interesting and modern fashion. As they expand and contract you have a chance to fire on the more powerful ships at the top of the formation. The aliens themselves come in new varieties and introduce new mechanics. Some may take two shots to destroy while others make their attack runs in new patterns. These new ships not only increase the challenge, but they also do two important things: First, they game is much more strategic now as you must be aware of what you are shooting and when, and second, there is constant sense of discovery as you proceed to each new level.
The classic mechanic of starting from square one at the end of each failed attempt is done away with. While there is no true save or continue option, once you have conquered at least wave 10, you will be able to resume from wave 11, 21, 31 and so on. While not original to Chillaxian, this mechanic greatly increases replay value and reduces frustration.
Chillaxian not only goes beyond the classic mechanically but also in presentation. While an obvious homage to the era, Chillaxian adds a splash of fluidity to the entire system. Ships glide and flow smoothly and the constant shifting of the formation is mesmerizing. The graphics for firing and ship destruction are also gleefully over the top and dramatic. This all serves to add a bit of humor to the whole affair. An excellent soundtrack accompanies the game and this is a rare situation where I recommend playing this arcade game with speakers or headphones on.
Getting controls right on a touch screen is key and Chillaxian nails it. Keeping things simple, tapping the left side of the screen moves you left, the right, right and firing is automatic. This is so intuitive that I never once found myself blaming failure on the missed touch command. The automatic firing does add almost a new challenge to the game as positioning of the ship becomes important to properly guide and arc shots. The whole enterprise would have failed if they had not gotten this right, and I am happy to say they have.
Chillaxian is still an arcade game and a clear homage to Galaxian. Despite the increased variety and addition of “save points” it cannot escape its highly simplistic yet entirely classic roots. If you have fond memories of pumping quarters into arcade machines, Chillaxian is going to be right up your alley. Otherwise, it’s a great temporary distraction with a ton of retro flair.