We’ve seen a lot of heavy-hitting AAA releases lately, but it’s important to take a look at the smaller side of things as well. Sure, a lot of indie games are boring, buggy or pretentious, but there’s the odd diamond in the rough. One of those diamonds is Galak-Z: The Dimensional, a space shooter that’s currently a PS4 exclusive but that’s looking at a PC release at some point in the future.
Galak-Z is, well…it’s a ship-based roguelike with Asteroids movement controls and a giant hard-on for the 1980s. The aesthetic is the most 80s thing in the world, paying homage to the anime of that era as lovingly as possible – even down to the Pause menu displaying artifacts on the top and bottom of the screen like an old VHS player. Unlike some games that try for this sort of nostalgia-bait and fail due to laying it on too thick – Retro City Rampage springs immediately to mind – Galak-Z is incredibly appealing at all times, constantly urging you to continue playing for just one more mission.
You play A-Tak, a pilot fighting for an overwhelmed nation that’s being conquered by an evil empire. With the help of his mission control Beam and mechanic Crash, A-Tak uses the legendary Galak-Z transforming fighter to show the empire who’s boss. A-Tak, Beam, Crash and their foes are absolutely dripping with personality which suffuses the entire game like a Saturday morning cartoon. Even the less exciting missions are made fun thanks to the characters’ banter.
As for the ship-based roguelike with Asteroids movement bit, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. You’ve got thrusters in both directions and rotation controls; to go somewhere, point that direction and thrust, while you can turn by thrusting while rotating. This might take a while to master, but doing so is key to success due to the roguelike bit, as is mastering the ship’s projectile-dodging flip. In order to successfully complete one of the game’s five chapters, you’ll need to complete five missions without dying. If you fail, you’re sent back to the start of the chapter sans ship upgrades and have to take it from the top. You’ll probably earn a couple of continues over the course of a chapter, so flawless play isn’t necessary, but you’ll still need to stay on your toes as carelessness will lead to wasted resources.
Your ship comes equipped with a basic blaster for zapping baddies, of course, and this can be upgraded in myriad ways of the course of the game. A fully upgraded blaster is a force to be reckoned with, raining glowing death over half the screen and making the Imperials beg for their mothers. Your arsenal is supplemented by missiles, which can be launched en masse a la Macross and can also be upgraded. Early on, you’re given the ability to shift the Galak-Z into a mecha form at equipped with a powerful laser sword and shield at will. Along with the killing power of the sword, the mecha is able to grab and throw objects for massive damage, up to and including enemy ships!
The key to the game’s lasting power lies in the upgrade system. You’ll collect ship parts and blueprints as you progress; the former immediately upgrades your ship with a new capability, while the latter ends up being available at the between-mission shops, where you can buy it using money earned from kills. Upgrades take your ship’s piddly starting capabilities and rapidly spiral them out of control; as mentioned, a fully upgraded basic shot is a cataclysmic wave of destruction that tears enemy ships apart, while a fully upgraded missile launcher can waste entire fleets of enemies with an enormous surge of ordinance.
Naturally there are defensive upgrades as well, ranging from boosts to your shields to toxic paint for fighting off ship-gnawing space bugs. Since the game’s content is procedurally generated, the exact upgrades you get will vary from game to game and you’ll have to adjust your tactic to match.
It’s easy to feel invincible once you’ve gotten your ship to a good place…which is exactly when hubris will lead you to die and lose it all. Missions don’t take long enough that death feels like an insufferable setback, though; it’s more of a challenge to get back in there and do better next time.
As I mentioned earlier, the presentation is absolutely stunning. It nails all the high points of classic anime without overdoing it. A-Tak and his foes banter during combat, tossing jibes back and forth as cut-in images pop up throughout the battle. High-powered weaponry lays waste to the surroundings, and the mecha form’s throw ability conveys impressive weight and impact when you’re hurling around giant asteroids. Suffice to say, this is a treat for the eyes on par with some of the PS4’s flagship titles.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional is a cute little $15 digital-only title that many players are bound to ignore. That’s a huge loss, as this one punches well out of its weight class when it comes to presentation and gameplay. Any PS4 owner would do well to pick up Galak-Z and sink a few hours into it. You’ll probably end up staring blankly into the screen and drooling all over yourself – just like back in the ’80s!