In a love letter to 80’s arcade shooters and Japanese anime, Galak-Z: The Dimensional throws its hat into the ring of the popular rogue-lite genre. 17-bit, the indie developers behind Skulls of the Shogun have put together an interesting and original premise in this genre that has seen quite a few compelling titles in recent years. While Galak-Z relies on many of the core gameplay systems that other rogue-lite games do, its unique spin on presentation, setting, and controls certainly have it standing out from the crowd.
Though Rogue-lite games aren’t for everyone. The soul-crushing progress losses and steep difficulty curves are a high bar for many. If this is you, you can probably stop reading this review and pass on Galak-Z. The gorgeous visuals enveloped in the 80’s aesthetic, the pinpoint accurate flight controls in zero gravity, the tense dogfighting, it’s probably just not going to be enough to convert you. If you have, however, dipped your toes into the rogue-lite pool in recent years, loved games like Spelunky, Crypt of the Necrodancer, or, one of the many other titles of this nature to arrive recently, you’ll probably enjoy Galak-Z quite a bit.
Space Pirates, Imperial Ships, and Giant Monsters, Galak-Z: The Dimensional has players assuming the role of A-Tak who pilots the Galak-Z to navigate procedurally generated, hostile space landscapes. The story of Galak-Z is told across a series of seasons, with five different episodes in each. As the story unfolds for the plucky pilot, players become more familiar with the ship, grow its abilities, and learn a little bit more about this interesting world. While some things are best left to be discovered by the player, there are definitely more story threads to uncover in Galak-Z than rogue-lite fans have come to expect in these types of games. That’s not to say that Galak-Z is story-driven, it’s just got more of it than most rogue-lite games have seen before. Really, everything in Galak-Z is designed to give you the impression that you’re watching a cartoon revolving around the space-faring adventures of A-Tak — from the end of episode cutscenes, right down to the archaic 80’s-style menus. The game isn’t weighed down by these elements, rather just made more colorful. The exploration and combat of Galak-Z are the real substance of the game.
Galak-Z is built around a nuanced control system that requires players to navigate zero gravity environments by using thrusters that can provide both forward and backwards propulsion. Make no mistake about it, while it might look the part of a twin-stick shooter, it most certainly is not that simple. It can take some time to get accustomed to the controls of Galak-Z, but when you do, they allow for a much wider array of movement for the ship and interesting combat segments. Alongside the thrusters, there’s a juke move that can be used to get out of tight spots, a boost mechanic that allows you to run away from dangerous enemies, and then there’s your core weapons to learn as well. You’ll also quickly uncover that the ship is a prototype super-weapon — giving you the ability to switch between rocketship and mech at the touch of a button. The transformed state also has its own set of controls to learn and master. For a game that’s built on a relatively simple premise of scavenging levels and completing objectives, Galak-Z’s general movements have a fairly steep learning curve that can be punishing for those that don’t catch on quickly. Players must be able to survive both combat segments and environmental hazards to keep the ship in one piece. The punishment for not doing so is permadeath.
The big roadblocks to progression are the various enemies you’ll encounter in Galak-Z and the way you choose to engage them. Players are given the ability to scout ahead, and will almost always be notified of an enemy presence through edge of the screen indicators that will let you know what types of enemies lie in wait. Environmental traps, enemy on enemy violence, you carefully avoiding confrontation, there are many ways that any given enemy encounter can play out. Galak-Z is a game about preservation if you want to proceed. Patient, thoughtful play is rewarded, as things like ship health are a valuable commodity in making it to the next episode. Though as the game progresses you’ll need more than just patience, you’ll need equipment, and the only way to get said equipment is exploring levels thoroughly for salvage currency or power-ups. Galak-Z forces the player to find a balance between getting out of a level before being badly damaged and sticking around long enough to make it worth your while. Doing so requires you keep an eye on your shields. When they are popped you take damage to the ship’s health, simple enough.
Combat in Galak-Z is incredibly tense given that you can lose all your progress with just a single misstep. Though you quickly discover that are many ways to engage with enemies, and use the levels to your advantage. Environmental hazards can either help or hurt you. So can different enemy types. Bug creatures will attack enemy Imperial and Pirate ships just as they would attack you, they don’t discriminate. Sometimes it’s a good plan to let enemies duke it out with one another before you swoop in for the coup de grace. Other times it’s smart to separate your adversaries, taking them down one by one instead of trying to engage multiple enemies at once. Sometimes, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation and find another way around enemy patrols. When a fight does kick off though, you can see the enemy A.I. churning. Just as they should, they’ll try to avoid taking damage to their ships when shields are down. They’ll communicate with nearby units to track you. Each encounter in Galak-Z feels like a small puzzle for you to complete in the most efficient manner possible, the less damage you take, the better.
Each episode has A-Tak accepting a randomly generated mission. While most of those are pretty straight forward, procedurally generated worlds and the rouge-lite underpinnings encourage exploration to find things like power-ups for the ship, blueprints for new power-ups, salvage which is used as currency, or Crash Coins. Like other games of this type, the more powerful your ship, the easier things are. The gameplay systems behind Galak-Z are fairly easy to pick-up, especially if you’ve played this type of game before. While permadeath is fact of life in this game if you don’t reach checkpoints without dying, there are some progression elements that smooth over this jarring aspect of this game, which is already pretty difficult to begin with. Collecting power-ups is one way to stay alive. The better your weapons are, the better you’ll fare in combat. Items like ship boosters and extra shields allow you to stay alive a little longer as well. These can be earned through discovering them outright, tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the map itself, or, through a storefront which can be accessed at the beginning of a mission or discovered while out and about. Crash, the merchant in question will also accept Crash Coins for a couple of different purchases, the most important though is the ability to turn them in for a redo on a level. Blueprints and other items will be made available in the store once discovered, so making solid progress means that you’ve not only completed your objectives, but found some things along the way.
Galak-Z is a difficult game, and one that doesn’t do too much hand holding. Enemies can feel like they outclass you at times, making victories over them feel great. The combination of the impressive A.I. powering the enemy units and the sheer number of control options that you have at your disposal can be a bit daunting at times. Playing more Galak-Z and becoming more proficient with the control schemes for both your ship and its transformed state are fun, but there’s definitely a steep learning curve to the mastery needed to complete this game. Speaking of which, this is a much longer rouge-lite title. Expect to put in many hours, some possibly frustrating, to complete all the seasons of Galak-Z. While our review of the game was relatively problem free, a grappling glitch caused us to lose some valuable progress, which included power-ups and salvage currency. That didn’t deter the fun too much, however. After all, you earn it and lose it, again and again in this game.
A rogue-lite with more substance than most, Galak-Z is equal parts brutal and beautiful. If you can hang in long enough to conquer the steep difficulty curve, what lies within is a rewarding, nostalgic trip.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional
- Available On: PS4
- Published By: 17-bit
- Developed By: 17-bit
- Genre: Rogue-lite, Arcade Shooter
- US Release Date: August 4th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "A rogue-lite with more substance than most, Galak-Z is equal parts brutal and beautiful. If you can hang in long enough to conquer the steep difficulty curve, what lies within is a rewarding, nostalgic trip."
- Amazing 80's Cartoon aesthetic
- Pinpoint flight controls
- Impressive enemy A.I.
- Rewarding difficulty curve
- Difficulty could be a barrier for some
- Possibly mission breaking bugs