Galak-Z – Review

Title   Galak-Z
Developer  17-BIT
Publisher  17-BIT
Platform  Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Genre  Shooter/Roguelike
Release Date  August 4, 2015

I don’t know anything about anime and, furthermore, I’m offended by people who do, but Galak-Z is apparently influenced pretty heavily by it.  For my money it looks a bit like Battle of the Planets (Editor’s Note: My box set says it’s called Gatchaman, peasant), a cartoon series from the ’80s that you wouldn’t turn off as a kid.  It was a bit worse than, say, Dogtanian but better than Mysterious Cities of Gold.

Now that I’ve started the review in as self-indulgent a way as possible, let’s talk about Galak-Z (which I’m reading as Galak-Zed, despite what they really intended).  The game itself is one of those thrust-based shoot ‘em ups.  The genre itself is most closely identified with Asteroids and has always been one of these least satisfying sub-genres of the shooty world and the recent genre darling, PixelJunk Shooter, did literally NOTHING for me at all so I didn’t come into this with huge expectations.

The idea behind Galak-Z, though, is quite clever – it’s broken down into four episodes (as if it were a TV cartoon, which is what it clearly models itself on) and each of these is broken down further into five missions.  The missions themselves are randomly ordered and have different stories (most of which are quite inconsequential) and it does feel like it might all be a bit procedurally-generated.  If you fail to beat all five missions then you’ll have to restart the whole episode, minus your upgrades and salvage (in-game money), so the cost of failure is actually quite severe.

This is an interesting way of doing things as it gives the game a distinct rogue-like feel and adds an extra element of risk.  To really give yourself the best chance at beating the last missions of an episode, you’ll want to explore and pick up as many upgrades as possible, but this puts you in more danger and also makes it more sickening when you die.  It’s up to you to find the balance between preparation and tolerable risk, I guess.

For a thrust-based title, Galak-Z plays very nicely.  After an initial period getting used to it, I found the controls to be more than adequate, and before long I was happily exploring the space caves that make up the game’s levels and getting into some decent scraps with enemy ships.

I chose to explore each level as much as possible and enjoyed the full benefits of the upgrade system.  It’s not full of choice, as such, and there are relatively few upgrade types (especially for a Rogue-like) but when you are nicely powered up, it does feel good.  The game is still a tough challenge, though, and you need to really consider your approach because if you fly into battles carelessly, you will get chewed up.

After an enjoyable first episode, the game then throws in a curve ball by allowing you to transform your ship into a mech.  This doesn’t alter the game too radically but does change the combat significantly by giving you a sword and a grappling hook which allow you to pull enemies in for some slicey-dicey action, or fling them into the nearest space nettles or whatever the nearest environmental hazard happens to be.  It’s a major adjustment but you can switch back to your regular ship if you choose.  Either option has its merits though.

With its clean, cell-shaded graphics and moody in-game soundtrack, Galak-Z is a well-presented title.  The between-mission cutscenes are bit less restrained, with all the yelling and nonsense that you’d expect from an anime cartoon and the sort of Japanese rock soundtrack that you’d expect on a SEGA game.  That said, that shit will appeal to a lot of people, so if you’re happy to buy into the story of a teenager who is piloting a one-of-a-kind spaceship then you might get something from the story.

Overall, I’m liking Galak-Z a lot.  The episode system makes you play the game a lot more cautiously than the usual shoot ‘em up efforts we get and, as with Tembo the Badass Elephant, it’s good to see some decent presentation and not just some thrown-together 16-bit bullshit.  If you’re a fan of arcadey shooters, this is well worth a look, and even if you’re not a fan of thrust controls, you may get something out of Galak-Z.

  • Floaty but useful controls.
  • Addictive, exciting gameplay.
  • Interesting rogue-like gameplay elements.
  • Smartly presented.
  • Story is more throwaway than the game thinks it is.
  • Thrust controls may not be to everyones' tastes.
  • Episode-based level structure punishes failure quite harshly.

Galak-Z is a fine addition to PSN's growing roster of arcade shoot 'em ups and has enough new ideas to help it stand out from the crowd. If you liked PixelJunk Shooter, this is better, but if you're looking for a more standard R-Type or 1942 shoot 'em up, this isn't that.

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