Bloodthirsty foes outnumber you and their attacks fill the screen with bright, neon streaks of explosive light. You’ve come far, narrowly scraped through dozens of dogfights by the skin of your teeth. Your shields are down, your hull is damaged and one lucky laser bolt is all it takes to send you to a cold, dark oblivion, setting back your hard-earned progress.
In Galak-Z: The Dimensional, released earlier in August for PS4 and PC, the stakes are high and only the most skilled pilots will be up to the task.
The latest title from developers 17 Bit Games, known for 2013’s turn-based tactics game Skulls of The Shogun, blends a classic 2-d shoot-em-up approach with open-world missions and randomly generated objectives, maps and loot, resulting in an unprecedented space action experience. A setting and characters influenced by retro Saturday-morning cartoons and sci-fi anime, along with a superbly spacy and operatic soundtrack, rounds out the game’s charm.
When starting the Galak-Z adventure, players are familiarized with their starfighter, which comes equipped with a standard laser cannon and lock-on swarm missiles. Forward, reverse and strafe thrusters can be juiced up with temporary boosters to increase speed, and an evasive “juke” maneuver can be employed in a pinch to dodge enemy fire. These abilities may seem basic at first, but when combined by an experienced flyer, they open up several useful methods for meeting each challenge.
Players effectively double their combat capabilities when starting the second “season” of the game, when they unlock the ability to transform the fighter into a Gundam-style mech suit, complete with energy sword, grapple arm and directional energy shield. Environmental hazards like crates of explosives and sparking electrical conduits make great improvised weapons when thrown at enemies.
Even with their full combat potential at their fingertips, the player is still in for a rough ride through uncharted space. Difficulty ramps up with each season, or series of five missions. Enemies become tougher, smarter and faster, and each season resets currency and ship upgrades, which must be found again during new missions. Each death will send players back to the beginning of the season, unless he or she has collected enough Crash Coins to earn a mission restart, in which they must track down a recovery crate to restore their lost equipment.
This uncompromising game-over mechanic can and will cause frustrations in most players when the smallest slip or mistake means an explosive death and a season restart. However, it also encourages tactful approaches to missions and rapidly fosters nerves of steel in developing star pilots. Later missions and bosses may require multiple tries to overcome, but the harsh learning curve means each victory is that much more intense and satisfying.
While Galak-Z succeeds at creating pulse-pounding and visually-striking moments of action, peril and death-defying clutch saves, the consequences of falling short of the skill demand are aggravating. For some players, this may result in exasperated rage-quitting. For others, it’s a call to step up and rise to the challenge.
The rogue-like formula of Galak-Z also means the laser upgrades and ship abilities up for grabs are never the same on any two missions, forcing the player to make the most of what they get. By the time the fifth and final mission of the season looms, players should have the loot to level the playing field, but flying skill, wise use of the environment and cunning will always be the deciding factors.
For an entry fee of around $20 on Playstation Network, Galak-Z is a worthwhile investment for thrill-seekers and aspiring heroes of the final frontier. The challenge is great, but a smart script, lively voice acting and high detail of animation help to make each attempt and do-over worth the trip.