Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” For each death that you will experience in Galak-Z, it will give way to your next life for a chance to start over with having learned something. Galak-Z is a different kind of space shooter than ones you’ve been used to before, and the major difference is the way it progresses. It’s a smart, funny, highly replayable adventure that recalls upon your childhood fondly.
The presentation for Galak-Z is almost too perfect. It feels like the weekend, and you’ve turned on the TV or popped in tape into the VCR to start watching an 80s Japanese cartoon, to which Galak-Z so heavily references and is influenced by, but it works on so many degrees. The pause menu is straight from a VCR, with tracking issues, and even has menus with bright blue backgrounds as you navigate them. It goes beyond just the look, though.
The setup is just as good, where you must complete a season which consists of five episodes that must be completed in succession before you move on. Each season is a self-contained entity, as upgrades and money earned in one season, do not carry over to the next. Galak-Z is a roguelike. The only persistence it has, is being able to jump straight into the next season as soon as the previous one has been completed. The only time the game saves is between episodes, when you return to the ship to get briefed on your next mission. This is a difficult game, one you will be constantly starting over with.
You play as A-Tak, where humanity has been all but wiped out. You’ve taken the experimental Galak-Z fighter, which holds a secret that doesn’t get revealed until Season 2. This is where you learn the ship has the ability to transform into a mech, complete with a pink laser sword for melee attacks. It also then can put up a shield, and more importantly, grapple enemy ships and other objects and use them as projectiles. The main ship mode is versatile and maneuverable, to which you spend all of Season 1 learning.
Galak-Z has Newtonian physics, whereby your momentum at whatever speed you were going will keep you going in whatever direction you’ve gone. If you decide to alter that direction, you must apply thrust opposite to where you are going. The controls feel loose, and sometimes not always in a good way. It’s too fast in tight corridors, but I love how responsive it is. This is a 2D dogfighter, and you can move and shoot in all directions. You’re able to boost for a short period of time, but it recharges very fast. The juke ability, where you fly at the screen to avoid enemy fire, cannot be understated or underutilized. It is very crucial as a way to stay alive. The stafe button, mapped to L1 is one I’m not fond of, or at least something I haven’t quite gotten the hang of. You do have missiles with lock-on that can be fired off, but they are scarce, and require a lot of salvage to reacquire.
Your ship has loadouts, where you can purchase buffs or upgrades. You can make purchases from salvage earned by killing enemies through an episode, or mission. Upgrades allow you to change out the muzzle, bullet shape, fire pattern, element payload, and the bullet special. Things like auto-fire, shots that ignite enemies, and ones that shoot in a wide arc. Some of these can be bought in the shop, others you have to find blueprints for. You have a recharging shield, but not your health. Health restoration can be bought at the shop, but it isn’t always available.
Crash coins are items found while playing the game where you have to explore the labyrinthine asteroids and old space buildings to acquire. These coins can be used to continue and try to retrieve your old equipment, or start over and you will convert those coins into salvage that will give you an edge for your next run by being able to buy the more expensive upgrades early.
The game’s AI is very unique and satisfying. Instead of everything wanting to kill you sight-on-seen, you must be detected while in their vision cone, or make some noise. You’ll also find that enemies will fight each other, often in fights as you come up on them. And it’s then you can let them whittle each other’s health down for you to deliver the killing blows to the both of them. There’s times where you can attract a single enemy with a stray laser shot, and have them follow you to pick them off. There are bugs are the nasty Imperials, and eventually the Void Raiders which get introduced in Season 2. Each of these enemies are different from one another and are behaviorally different.
You must be skilled to fight everything, but that will likely get you killed until you are used to playing it. Playing stealthy keeps you alive, but then you’re not killing anything to collect salvage to buy upgrades. You can use the environment like shooting lava or throwing enemies into spikes to aid you. The game has damage numbers, but instead of showing what damage you’re doing, the numbers show how many hits are left before the enemy is destroyed.
Galak-Z is unabashedly difficult, but it does so with such charm and grace that you are willing to spend more time with it as you continue to fail season after season until you get it right. The overall story arc doesn’t quite tie everything together as you would hope, due to the procedurally generated missions. Though, it’s these generated missions that will often cast fortune upon you, to give you a really good run throughout the season to complete it. Each replay makes it so even though you have completed the game, there’s something rewarding and satisfying to return to in this universe.
A pre-release PlayStation 4 code was provided by 17-BIT for review purposes