As the new wave of rougelikes continues to flourish, gamers are treated to more and more interesting takes on the genre. The latest of the bunch, Galak-Z: The Dimensional is a space-faring shooter with a very apparent anime inspiration. The tributes to rougelikes that have come before it and nods to Ichiro Itano aren’t there as just references to win over fans. Instead, Galak-Z takes its inspirations, puts them proudly on its sleeve and goes flying into space with bold decisions, a gorgeous art style, and gameplay that will make even the worst technical glitch seem passable. Oh, and it has the best pause screen of 2015, possibly ever. Look at it below and try and argue with me.
Humanity is not in a good spot when Galak-Z starts. It seems like a lot of the human pilots have been killed and, of course, you are one of the few pilots left. Atak, the game’s main character, is your typical “too young to be a hero” hero who finds himself thrown into a conflict involving the evil imperial scum who rule the galaxy, alien bugs and raiders who just want people to suffer. Unfortunately, that’s about as much story as you’ll be getting when it comes to Galak-Z. While the game’s art style and overall look and feel set it up to be a fun, episodic story, the game has what amounts to a bare bones, thrown together plot that is entirely forgettable. The game itself is even split into seasons that must be completed in one swoop without dying. Once you die you head back to the start of the season and go at it all over again. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Galak-Z isn’t here for the story, it’s here for the gameplay.
At the start of the game you’re given control of a ship that can shoot basic lasers as well as missiles, boost for extra speed and juke out of the way of incoming fire. After a short time playing you learn how to strafe which comes in huge handy and at the start of season two your ship can turn into a mech, making all of your 1980s cartoon fantasies come true. Knowing that you can do all of these neat tricks isn’t enough in Galak-Z -- you need to master these techniques in order to succeed and stay alive. For a game that plays as an isometric space shooter rougelike with corridors and upgrades there are a lot of games to draw comparisons to in terms of gameplay. I doubt that Halo is on that list for many people but the combat AI in Galak-Z is worthy of the comparison.
Enemies in Galak-Z are up for the challenge and most of them are more than capable of taking you out. Dogfights with enemy ships can often last minutes as they maneuver away from your lasers and fire off missiles of their own. Enemies are particularly good at leading their shots, making your strafe ability all the more important. I was actually awestruck at how good the enemies were at leading shots and often times I would die and not even feel bad about it, they deserved to kill me because they were better than me. These fights are the epitome of what Galak-Z is all about: short, intense fights that keep you on the edge of your seat, grasping your controller and praying for a favorable outcome by any means necessary. Of course, you’re not just fighting enemies with a laser forever.
As Galak-Z progresses you earn and find upgrades in the world. These upgrades can be improvements for your shield, missile capacity, lasers, health and so on. Upgrades are random and they don’t carry over from season to season. Each season is five episodes long so when you finish a season with a fully upgraded ship, it gets wiped at the start of the next season. And yes, the next season will be even more difficult and you will have nothing to work with. Well, that’s not entirely true, you also find Crash Coins in the world which carry over between seasons and give you credits for each coin you have. If you happen to have five coins and you die you can even start at the beginning of the mission rather than having to restart the season over from episode one. Restarting the entire season after dying on the last episode is cause for much frustration but Galak-Z does enough to make you feel like you have the ability to overcome the odds that you never feel cheated. That is, unless we’re talking about technical hiccups.
Aside from the weak story, Galak-Z’s biggest disappointment and source of frustration is its technical issues. As the seasons progress you face more and more enemies and there are times where the frame rate will drop significantly. There were a few times where this drop caused some near-death experiences and in one particular case, caused me to restart and entire season after a fantastic run. I would’ve been fine dying that way if it felt fair and deserved, like every other death, but this just felt wrong. I also experienced the game crashing to the PS4 home screen once or twice, deleting my season progress along with it. These kind of technical issues mar a lot of games but in a game that is so difficult to begin with, any loss of progress is a big hit to take and keep chugging along.
For whatever reason though, I felt the need to keep pushing through Galak-Z. With such tight gameplay and a just-right difficulty level I never felt like I didn’t have the tools to win. And when I found myself in a situation I knew I couldn’t survive but somehow managed to come out on top I jumped for joy with excitement. Galak-Z is the first game in a while to make me feel like I actually accomplished something when I finished a level or beat a boss. It hearkens back to the years of difficult games that were meant to eat as many quarters as possible with an art style to fit that decade as well. There are some technical issues that you’ll need to look past but if you’re able to, you’ll find a game with incredible controls that is just waiting for you to step up to the joysticks.