One thing’s for certain, developer 17-BIT does very little to hide their inspirations when it comes to making games. While it does have the flair of one of your go-to Saturday morning cartoons from the 90’s, Galak-Z: The Dimensional feels more like a love letter to Japanese cartoons from the 80s, most notably mech/space operas such as Robotech or Gundam Wing. From the VHS inspired menus to the fake credits that appear at the beginning of each level, Galak-Z is soaked in nostalgia, a recent trend that has proved successful for plenty of games, compilations, re-releases, and what have you.
Still, what I perhaps love best about Galak-Z is how it attempts to merge its narrative and stylistic inspirations with a hearty serving of roguelike gameplay, and for the most part it comes together pretty well.
You jump into the shoes of A-Tak, a space pilot who stands against a never-ending onslaught of alien bugs, Empire troops and ruthless bandits. Galak-Z breaks up its levels into episodes, with five episodes comprising a season (four seasons are available at the time of writing, with one due out in a few months). Like many roguelikes, levels are procedurally generated, meaning that while the basic plot of each season stays the same across each episode, the layout of enemies, your objectives, and the maps will vary across each playthrough.
As expected for a roguelike, dying will reset your progress (for the most part), but one of the more punishing aspects of Galak-Z is that dying at any point during a season will send your right back to its first episode. If this all sounds tense, that’s because it is. After a few hours of playing Galak-Z, it became pretty clear to me that there really is no way of avoiding the stress that accompanies it. Still, roguelike fans will find a lot on offer here, thanks in part to the way the game plays, and how progression is handled.
Without a doubt, the most important thing to master when it comes to surviving the harsh world that is space is to get a solid grip on how A-Tak’s ship handles. Rather than simply pointing the analog stick in a direction to move, his ship relies on thrusters to propel yourself forward, with the analog stick guiding your direction of propulsion. It’s a system that is more involved than most, but there’s a lot of room for depth and nuance once you being to wrap your head around the game’s mechanics.
It doesn’t take too long to figure out that evading fire is key, though with the ability to propel yourself backwards as well as forwards, it’s just as easy to retreat from a fight as it is to hurl headfirst into one. Granted, enemies are smart and usually won’t let you off scot-free, but once you unlock the ability to juke to avoid enemy fire, and strafe to circle around enemies, the different strategies and tactics begin to avail themselves; a requisite for any game that places such unforgiving consequences on dying.
Upgrades to your ship (and overall progress) are also handled in a rather novel fashion. As is standard, dying at any point will reset your ship back to its naked state, but there are some systems in place to help alleviate the pain. One of the in-game currencies come in the form of Crash Coins, which can be found hidden in levels or dropped from certain enemies. While you can exchange these for salvage (the other currency that is used for buying upgrades) when you die, if you manage to save up five Crash Coins, you can choose to restart a failed mission rather than restarting an entire season. In return, your ship will be stripped of all of its upgrades, though you can recover them by finding a hidden crate when retrying the mission at hand.
Picking up salvage from defeated enemies paves the way for buying upgrades, which run the gamut from different shot patterns, firing types, additional shields, a larger capacity of missiles, and so on. These upgrades (as mentioned) disappear on death, but they will also be stripped when you complete a season and move onto the next one. On the other hand, blueprints that you find throughout levels remain permanently unlocked, and unlocked blueprints will randomly be available in-store, either before you start a mission, or during a mission, assuming you can find a tucked-away ship/storefront.
There’s plenty of routes to go when it comes to deciding what to upgrade, though I always found that investing in extra shields pays off big time, especially considering that health points do not auto-regenerate between episodes. Still, even during playthroughs where I was rather unlucky when it came to collecting salvage, the core mechanics of ship control always carried me through.
And that in and of itself is one of Galak-Z’s greatest strengths. Aside from all the ancillary upgrade systems and narrative dressing, 17-BIT has crafted an intricate and nuanced game, replete with all the turbos, circle-strafing, jukes and dodges you can hope for. Even after spending more than dozen hours in space, new tactics and options always began to present themselves, which is probably why Galak-Z: The Dimensional manages to stave off that feeling of repetitiveness that so often accompanies roguelikes, even if an untimely death sends you back a few levels.
If this review isn’t enough of a glowing recommendation, perhaps the fact that I’m anxiously awaiting the fifth season might make an impact. Seriously though, I need that last season.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
I'm sure more casual players will still be deterred from taking the plunge, but any fan of roguelikes need not look any longer for their next fix. Galak-Z has style, and it's got it in spades.