by August 24, 2015 @ 6:32 pm
It’s great when a developer tries new and interesting things with a familiar genre. Developer 17-Bit set out to create something special with Galak-Z: The Dimensional, its anime-inspired space shoot ’em up for the PlayStation 4. In a lot of ways the studio succeeded, because playing the game yields entertaining results all too often. At the same time, there are a few nagging issues that stand out despite not exactly ruining this colorful space adventure.
You play as A-Tak, a young pilot tasked with returning home. There’s also something about space pirates. And there are a few other characters who work with you and want to get home, too. The whole thing is largely uninteresting,
and part of the reason it’s hard to care about the story is because it’s hard to care about the bland characters. A few lightly comedic moments notwithstanding, none of the characters are ever all that fun to listen to when they’re engaging in dialogue.
And engage in dialogue they will, as characters in Galak-Z can be quite chatty. The story bits that play before each mission aren’t great, so if you’d rather just skip all of the dialogue, you can (and should). Of course, once you’re actually playing the levels, you’ll be forced to listen to a bunch of one-liners and complaints made by A-Tak. Hearing him utter, “Damn you and your empire!” gets old fast.
Thankfully, the action that occurs while you’re in the cockpit of your space fighter shines, and it shines quite brightly. Controlling your ship takes some getting used to. In fact, it took me about three levels before I was completely comfortable with the way the ship handled. After that initial, daunting learning curve, however, I had no problem controlling the ship with ease.
Galak-Z takes an interesting approach to the roguelike formula, and this is one of the game’s best features. There are a total of four seasons (with a fifth “coming soon”), each with five randomly generated episodes. If A-Tak dies at any point, it’s back to the start of whichever season you were playing. It’s cool that you’re not forced to start the game over as this gives a sense of completion and it doesn’t make the whole thing appear too dismal.
That said, you’ll probably still feel the rage coming on if you die just as you were finishing up the fifth episode of any given season. This is especially true (and a high possibility) considering that your damage carries over. So if you take a hit when your rechargeable shields are depleted, the damage done to your ship will carry over to the next episode, unless you patch it up by finding or buying health items.
Between each episode you have the opportunity to spend scrap, the game’s currency that you come across in nicely hidden crates or when you blow up enemy fighters. You can purchase upgrades to increase rate and spread of fire, make your shots stronger, gain speed boosts, arm yourself with temporary shield increases, or the aforementioned health items. These carry over between episodes in a season, but when you start a new season, you start from scratch, which causes a disappointing feeling of loss of progression.
Arguably the coolest feature in the game isn’t introduced until the second season. With a press of a button, you can turn your ship into a space mech. Where the ship is great for firing shots, unloading missiles, and dodging fire, the mech can swing a giant beam sword, shoot a grappling hook at enemies and rocks, and bust out a shield. Suffice it to say that the mech is super-anime-like and makes for a ton of badassery. And it’s knowing when to switch off between your ship and mech that can often mean the difference between life and death.
Speaking of which, another key to victory is in knowing when to fight and when to flee. You’re bound to come across a number of enemies and engage in memorable battles, but sometimes you’re too outnumbered to put up much of a fight. It’s these instances that call for a stealthier approach, and there’s really no shame in sneaking around the levels to get away from enemies unscathed rather than engaging in a pointless battle that could cost you later on.
Unfortunately, sometimes you’re not just dealing with enemies and environments. Galak-Z suffers from some framerate issues that pop up from time to time and put a damper on the experience. When you’re trying to win an intense battle among the stars, the last thing you need is slowdown to impede your chances against an already tough horde of bug-like creatures and space pirates.
Much has been said about the anime visuals of Galak-Z, and while I can certainly see the influence, I can’t say I enjoyed the graphical direction all that much. The colors are too bold and give off more of a Flash vibe than an anime vibe. It’s a shame, too, because the VHS-styled pause menu, title cards at the start of each episode, and production fanfare following the credits at the end of each season are phenomenal throwbacks to a cherished, bygone era.
When Galak-Z is firing on all cyllinders, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The upgrade system is great (except when you lose your upgrades at the start of a new season), the challenge is satisfying, and the ship-to-mech dynamic is cool. It’s not the homage to anime that it’s touted as, framerate issues mar the experience a touch, and some random missions can be boring. Still, if you want a good space shooter, that’s exactly what you’ll get here.
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