Game Review: Gaplus (Commodore 64, Mastertronic)

Gaplus Title Screen
Gaplus, C64, Mastertronic - IC0269
  • 9/10
    Score - 9/10
9/10

Summary

Despite the plain visuals, Gaplus is one of the best arcade conversions to grace the Commodore 64. Not only does it deliver fantastic arcade gameplay, but improves on the original in almost every respect. A true classic.

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Being a budget publisher, one of the things that you wouldn’t expect from Mastertronic was licensed titles. Yet that’s what they released when a limited deal was made to bring some of Namco’s arcade hits to the home market. One such game was part of the Galaxian series, Gaplus…

Gaplus = Galaxian 3

For those of you not familiar with Gaplus, it’s an arcade shoot-em-up and the third game in the Galaxian series. It’s a single-screen arcade game putting you in control of a lone space craft up against waves of invading alien craft. There’s no plot to speak of, just clear as many waves as possible to get the best score you can.

Gaplus attract screen - Commodore 64
Gaplus attract screen – Commodore 64

Series Progression

Each game in the Galaxian series has added new features and twists to the gameplay, and Gaplus is no exception. The original was influenced by Taito’s Space Invaders, minus the defence barriers and but with the aliens swooping down to attack the player from the main block formation. The single shot mechanism that gave Space Invaders a unique strategic element remained, and helped elevate Galaxian to classic status.

The sequel, Galaga, started each wave with smaller groups of aliens swarming into the screen attacking you before settling into the larger block which then continued the traditional attack pattern from the previous game. Additionally, tractor beams were introduced from “boss” fighers. If you were caught by one of these you lost a life, but if you managed to shoot one after it captured your fighter you could recover it and add it to your craft doubling your firepower. The final addition were bonus stages where you had to defeat swarms of aliens who weren’t attacking you.

Gaplus - Commodore 64
Gaplus – Commodore 64

Enter Gaplus

Now, when it comes to the third in the series, even more new features were included. The same basic game structure remained, but now your ship’s movement was expanded. No longer were you limited to basic left and right. Instead a limited vertical range was added, and the previously featured tractor beam was expanded so you could capture enemy craft to add them to your own. Weapon drops were also added to bolster your firepower, and the bonus stage was revamped.

Arcade Aesthetics

Unlike the first two games in the series whose visuals utilised a primary colour base for their art, Gaplus used more greys mixed in with the colours. Sound effects were still of the same standard of its predecessors and more music was added, introducing a few more jingles between stages.

From a personal point of view, I prefer the classic look from either Galaxian or Galaga to Gaplus. While there is more detail to the graphics in the third instalment, the more subdued colour scheme takes away the impact from them. It’s definitely a good example of where too much effort harmed the look of it, although I can understand the reasoning behind it in the arcades.

Gaplus - Commodore 64
Gaplus – Commodore 64

Gameplay

When it comes to the game itself, Gaplus is just as fun and playable as the first two in the series and just as challenging. It’s different enough to stand out from the previous two games, but retains enough of the original so it still feels like part of the series. So it keeps everything that made Galaxian – and Galaga – so addictive in the first place.

Despite all the new elements added to the game this time around, it’s still simple to get into and is one of those games you can just pick up and play and get into straight away. To master it completely you’ll need to memorise all the initial attack patterns as the aliens arrive on screen, but you can still enjoy the addictive gameplay without this.

Arcade Perfect?

That’s all well and good, but what about the Commodore 64 version? Ashley Routledge and David Saunders have delivered an absolutely stunning conversion. While the graphics are more subdued than the arcade original, using the greyscale element of the C64s palette with a splash of blue and red to break it up, it’s still clear enough to distinguish each type of alien. However, the amount of creatures on screen and smooth movement is impressive and there’s no slowdown despite the amount of sprites in use. The starfield background, as seen in the arcade original, is also present here.

Gaplus bonus stage - Commodore 64
Gaplus bonus stage – Commodore 64

Where the C64 version really comes into its own is the sound. There’s title music from Maniacs Of Noise, with them also providing the sound effects and jingles. And frankly these are vastly superior to the arcade originals. It’s not the first time that a C64 game has better sound than the arcade game it’s based on, but it’s great to see on a budget release.

But where the C64 version of Gaplus really shines is the playability. It feels far more responsive than the arcade original and just feels more playable as a result. Whether it’s the change of screen aspect from vertical to horizontal that makes the difference or not I don’t know, but it’s definitely the more playable of the two.

Overall

Mastertronic have definitely delivered the goods with this one. It’s not only a great game, but a fantastic arcade conversion and one of the best on the C64. This could have been released as a full price game and no-one would have complained, but for Gaplus to be released as a budget game made it an absolute bargain that no-one should have passed up. One of the best original releases from Mastertronic and a must buy.

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