GALAK-Z Review – One Dogfight at a Time

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Let’s start with the bad.

The first two hours of Galak-Z: The Dimensional are punishingly difficult, almost to the point of making the game inaccessible. You will die frequently. You will also die quickly. It may be hours before you make any real progress and it is extraordinarily frustrating when a fantastic run goes up in smoke in less than ten seconds.

The gameplay does not make a great first impression.

However – and it’s a significant however – if you can get beyond that, then Galak-Z is excellent. It’s a tightly designed, adrenaline-doused space shooter with a nearly flawless visual aesthetic, and while it remains punishingly difficult it is incredibly satisfying once you adapt to the controls.

Galak-Z is a rogue-like from 17-Bit (Skulls of the Shogun) designed to mimic the arcade space shooters of the 1980s. The Galak-Z is your ship, and you’ll have to guide it through a series of 2D dogfights in asteroids and the hollowed out wreckage of destroyed vessels. It all looks like a retro anime episode recorded to a VHS tape and played back on a CRT television from the 90s.

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The game itself is broken into five seasons, each of which consists of five missions. The missions are interchangeable – you fly into something, find and/or destroy a thing, and then fly back out – but the tiered structure sets the game apart from other rogue-likes because it gives the game a sense of progress between sessions (when you die, you go back to the beginning of the season rather than the beginning of the game). It delivers a stronger narrative hook and makes Galak-Z the rare rogue-like that’s worth completing just to see how the story ends, even if the fifth season is not available at launch (it’s coming later as free DLC).

The story kicks off with A-Tak (that’s you), the lone surviving combat pilot following a disastrous battle against an alien Imperial fleet. Beam is the levelheaded leading officer of the Axelios, the fleet’s lone surviving command cruiser (she gives you missions and coordinates the resistance). Your job is to accumulate resources in order to survive. The dialogue is sparse but humorous, with well-drawn leads that exude animated charm, with the exception of a rather obnoxious General who shows up halfway through and steals some of Beam’s spotlight.

As for the gameplay, the Galak-Z is a dual mode ship – you can transform into a battle mech – that expands on the standard space-shooter design. The transition between the mech and the Galak-Z is seamless, and both have their advantages during combat. The Galak-Z is less precise but more nimble. The mech allows you to grapple enemies and bully them with your fists, but doing so can leave you exposed if there are other enemies in the area.

Both strategies are viable and you’ll need to master both to overcome specific challenges. It also makes the game unexpectedly tense. Death can happen in an instant, so the consequences of one bad decision can be disastrous. The high stakes and constant peril are almost reminiscent of a horror movie, and that’s ultimately what makes the gameplay so compelling.

Galak-z-dogfight

As for the rest, Galak-Z comes with the standard array of rogue-like features, and while they’re unremarkable, they are extremely well executed. You can collect loot to upgrade your ship with spread shots, bounce shots, flame shots, and the like, and you can also stock up on purple coins that carry over to the next play through. It takes some of the sting out of death, making it easer to get back to where you were and ensuring that you seldom feel too over or underpowered.

The game isn’t perfect. The fixed camera zoom can be irritating when you’d like to be able to see what dangers lie ahead and the screen often becomes too cluttered. It can be nearly impossible to figure out where your ship is amidst all of the green lasers and particle explosions, especially if you get into a dogfight in a contained area. When you die, you die quickly, and it’s always frustrating when it happens.

Fortunately, the good heavily outweighs the bad once the game picks up. The gameplay finds an enjoyable balance between action and exploration and the phenomenal set-dressing helps push Galak-Z beyond many of its competitors. It’s a thrilling, skill-driven arcade shooter with a strong sense of self, and is well worth checking out if you’re looking for a challenge.

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