By: Mike Chen
Galak-Z promised to be a lot of different things — roguelike shooter, 2D space combat game, 1980s anime revival, mech combat action. Against the odds, developer 17-Bit has pulled it off and managed to successfully incorporate each of those items, creating a package that’s far deeper than it seems on the surface.
When you embark on your first mission, you’ll probably feel afloat — both figuratively and literally. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved as you fly around space. For me, it took about two hours of play to really get comfortable with this, but once I did, I could maneuver around with precision.
At its core, Galak-Z’s controls are quite simple. The left analog stick controls the direction of your ship. It’s not a rotational tank-like control, it’s an actual pointer. Think of it as the gun on a twin-stick shooter, except you need to hit a button to shoot.
R2 and L2 are used for throttling and reversing, respectively, though slamming them together will cause your ship to brake — an extremely helpful ability. R1 also gives you an additional limited boost. Other buttons take care of attacking, dodging, and transforming between ship and mech (or “battroid” for you old school Macross fans). Note that transforming is only available after completing the first series of missions, or “season.”
GRAPHICS / SOUND (4.25/5)
If you’re a fan of 1980s anime, you’ll recognize that Galak-Z is a deep love letter to the genre. The Axelios starship looks like a Zentreadi cruiser (Macross/Robotech) painted up like the Yamato (Yamato/Star Blazers). Protagonist A-tak looks like the wild-haired hero from any show from the genre, and the cel-shaded graphics help give it a truly drawn feel. Other genre staples include missile contrails, bubble explosions and mech design straight out of Gundam.
During actual gameplay, though, it’s not as detailed. The camera view is similar to old-school arcade shooters like Sinistar or even Asteroids. For the most part, it’s easy to get a grasp on everything, but when you’re fighting a wave of enemies in a cluttered space, things get confusing pretty quickly.
Sometimes there’s just too much going on, and not only does this cause the occasional framerate hiccup, it also can be plain confusing. Between swarming enemies, exploding environments, missile contrails, laser blasts and explosions, it will take some time before you feel totally comfortable tracking all the action.
While the levels are procedurally generated, the overarching plot of each season is set, and that means the voice actors move the story forward. Both dialogue and performance are intentionally over the top, almost more like B-movie rather than the “war is hell” tone of Robotech. But this tongue-in-cheek tone fits well, and allows the whole experience to be fun and goofy and definitely not too serious.
As mentioned above, Galak-Z takes some time to get used to. The core gameplay is flying around environmental hazards while blasting away at various enemies. Sounds simple, but Galak-Z provides a very nuanced experience that combines 360-degree aiming and momentum-based movement. The result is gameplay that can be equal parts precise and infuriating, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty darn fun.
Understanding throttle and momentum is the key to both movement and survival. Since bumping into the environment doesn’t hurt you, you’re free to be as cavalier as you want. Enemies will exchange laser blasts with you once they detect you, which means you can attack with guns blazing or stealthily hide behind the odds and ends of the environment.
Because of the momentum based movement, it’s possible to strafe, circle, and dash by enemies while blasting away at them, and once you get transformable mech capabilities (unlocked after the first season), another layer of combat awaits.
Add on a range of collectible power-ups placed within each procedurally generated level and you’ll see why the game is much deeper than you may realize. Even after 15-20 hours, you’ll find new power-ups and ways of attacking.
Galak-Z presents itself in five “seasons” of five “episodes” each, with each episode being a procedurally generated level. (Note: The fifth season is currently unavailable.) Each season has an arc, so despite the random nature of levels, specifics are often the same. Here’s the trick, though: you must defeat an entire season, without dying, otherwise you’ll have to start over.
Episodes take about 5-15 minutes depending on how quickly you go through them, and power-ups don’t carry over from life to life, so even if you’ve powered your way through to the season boss, a few mistakes and it’s all for nothing. The only thing that carries over are discovered blueprints for power-ups, which make them available for purchase, but you still have to buy them when you restart.
I died a lot playing Galak-Z, but I wanted to keep playing. The combination of 1980s mech anime, roguelike levels and nuanced combat controls is a blast — no pun intended. There’s a steep learning curve to start, but you’ll be rewarded once you get past it.