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I have no shields. My ship is surrounded by purple enemy ships firing green lasers at me. They are firing them fast and I’m barely dodging them. I hit my boost and slam around a corner and they lose sight of me for long enough that I feel like I’m safe. My shields flicker back on and are fully recharged. It seems like I’ll live to see another day. And then I fly right into a hornet’s nest of deadly ships and turrets. Before I can even turn around or fire missles I’m dead.
This is Galak-Z: The Dimensional. It’s brutal. It’s deadly. It’s difficult. And it can be a lot of fun.
Before you go exploring the caves and large derelict ships it can be easy to look at Galak-Z and feel like you already know what this game is. In the last few years indie developers have released dozens and dozens of “retro” style games. Games like Rogue Legacy, Shovel Knight or Rock Boshers DX. These games are love letters to the past. They look like and sound like the games many of us grew up with.
And it would be easy to look at Galak-Z as just another one of these games. A twin stick space shooter with an 90’s era nostalgia. The game even opens up with a arcade ROM/RAM check screen. But Galak-Z’s appearances are deceiving. This isn’t a twin stick shooter and this isn’t some SNES game remade with a new name. No. This is a totally different beast altogether, one that has more in common with Far-Cry and Dark Souls than Gradius or Galaga.
Galak-Z might not play like an older “retro” game, but it does have a story and style that feed off that sense of nostalgia. The game is presented as a late 80s-early 90’s anime. From the story to the characters to the ship designs, everything feels like one of those anime space shows you might of watched on Toonami or maybe saw a few episodes on a VHS tape you borrowed from a friend.
This ends up meaning that the story is largely…forgettable. Not bad, but I never really felt a connection to these characters or their situation. And it doesn’t help that at times the writing made me shake my head or even groan. Though to be fair all of this is by design, I assume. It has a generic “Last ship and last hope for humanity story” because tons of anime series back then had that storyline. And the writing similarly feels like those anime shows of old, stilted and filled with bad jokes and technobabble.
But that isn’t why you should play Galak-Z. The real reason is the gameplay and how quickly things can go from great to terrible. The story of Galak-Z is that you are the last ship. You have almost no resources and little in the way of backup. And the gameplay matches this. I always felt like my back was to the wall. I always felt like I was getting out of situations by the skin of my teeth. And when you do beat a big enemy or survive a huge wave of bugs, you don’t feel like a badass. No, you feel like a survivor. You feel relieved.
That’s because death in Galak-Z matters. Dying means you lose all of your upgrades, all of your weapons and more. You see Galak-Z is structured like a TV show, like an anime. There are four seasons. Each season is made up of five missions. You need to finish five missions in a row to move onto the next season. But if you die at any point in a season you have to start from the beginning of that season. (Unless you have five crash coins on you, which are one of the few things that don’t disappear when you die.)
You will probably die a few times in Galak-Z. I certainly did. The ship movement is not as simple as “push stick to go that way.” Instead you have to use carefully timed thrusts and boosts to guide your ship through the vacuum of space. Wrapping your head around the movement controls and at the same time fighting enemies can be overwhelming at first. But as you unlock upgrades and buy new weapons, you start to (hopefully) find a build that works for you.
The other important revelation for me was the realizing that it is almost always a smart move to avoid combat and run away if I felt I was in serious danger.
As the combat and the movement started to click with me and I realized when to fight and when to hide, I started to make good progress through the episodes and seasons of Galak-Z. But I never felt like I was safe and I never got too comfortable.
At anytime you can miscalculate a fight and find yourself near death, surrounded with little hope of escape. One time I was escaping a fight and felt like I was safe and ended up getting to close to a cave wall where a giant bug shot out and grabbed me, killing me in the process.
If you can fight your way through missions and survive you will gather salvage, which is used to upgrade your ship and repair too. A smuggler named Crash will help improve your ship. These upgrades can be as small a speed boost to more powerful and noticeable changes like more missiles launched or shooting bigger lasers. Before each mission you can change which weapon upgrades you use. Want your lasers to bounce and burn enemies? You can do that. Want a super accurate laser that fires huge and powerful blasts, you can do that too.
There are a lot of combinations and because Galak-Z is randomly generated and the items in stores are randomly populated, you end up experimenting a lot. Which was nice. I always felt like I was finding new upgrades and learning how they worked and if I liked them. This upgrade system and the amount of combinations you can create adds a lot of depth to Galak-Z. It also gave me a better sense of ownership over my ship, which was nice.
Though your ship isn’t just a ship. Considering this is supposed to be an anime series, you of course have a rare experimental ship that can turn into a mech. Yes, your ship can turn into a mech and yes I waited this long into the review to mention that. Why? Because, and I know this will sounds strange to some people, but I didn’t like the mech at all. It felt weird to use and the sword strikes didn’t feel useful enough to me. I did like the grapple hook and loved grabbing enemies and flinging them into lava.
But when push came to shove and I found myself in a life or death situation I never used the mech. It just didn’t feel as powerful or as fun. But I still thought it was cool. I still think mechs are cool. I really do like mechs. Promise.
Galak-Z is at its best when you are at your lowest point. Fighting your way out of an ambush or barely getting away from a large enemy mech when you have low health, these are the situations that I felt the most terrified in Galak-Z. But getting through these moments was immensely satisfying. And also relieving. Reaching the end of a season was always a great feeling, and it kept me coming back to play more of it.
Galak-Z might look like another one of those “retro styled indie games”. But Galak-Z uses the anime imagery and 2d space style to grab your attention. What ending up holding my attention was the gameplay and the way I always felt like I was barely making it through missions. Galak-Z can be brutal and it can be hard, but if you put time into learning how everything works and how all the systems interact, you’ll find a game with a great sense of style and a ton of depth. Galak-Z might be too frustrating for some, but if you stick with it you’ll be left with a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
And also you get to fly a sweet anime spacefighter and fight giant bugs as a sword wielding mech. That’s a pretty good reason to play Galak-Z too.