Last year, I got the chance to play Galak-Z for the very first time at the now annual PlayStation Experience (PSX). Through my 20 minutes of hands-on with it, I experienced a whole lot of death. You see, Galak-Z is an unapologetic Roguelike, where one wrong move can cost you your ship's shields, and an another your ship's hull, and the next minute you find yourself back at the title screen, kicking yourself for not remembering to juke those damn rogue missiles!! Sorry, I'll regain my composure.
I can't talk about Galak-Z without first mentioning the fantastic art style. Everything from the game's logo to the characters, the ship and even the witty dialogue practically screams late 80s anime or Saturday morning cartoon. It definitely has a Macross/Robotech feel to it and is even structured like a TV show with five seasons containing five episodes each (though Season 5 is coming soon). Developer 17bit certainly deserves to be commended for both the visuals and audio. Oh, and just wait until you press Pause. It's heavenly. Unless you're a teenager, then you might not get it. Ask your parents.
The gameplay revolves around exploring procedurally generated levels, which are comprised of different planets with weaving cave systems or derelict space stations, and completing various objectives, which too change each time you load up a mission.
You pilot the titular Galak-Z ship, a prototype ship with a powerful transforming ability (which you don't get until you unlock Season 2) that's straight out of Macross. Both the ship and mech have completely different playstyles. The ship is more nimble with long range and missile capabilities as well as the option to strafe and juke enemies and shots. The mech on the other hand loses ranged weapons in favor of a more powerful laser sword, a shield and the ability to grapple and throw enemies/objects. Knowing when to switch between the two is crucial to survival, since both have offensive capabilities that work better against certain enemies.
Since this is a Roguelike, progression is only tied to your current run, meaning after you die, you lose all your upgrades, and you start back at episode 1 of whatever season you've unlocked. That's right, you have to beat all five episodes without dying to unlock the next. It's extremely stressful. However, the game does have a system in place to alleviate this frustration; Crash Coins. These extremely valuable purple coins serve two purposes. Any collected coins will be turned into Salvage (currency) after you start a new run from episode 1, giving you some extra spending cash right from the beginning in order to outfit your ship with better defense and offensive upgrades. However, collect five Crash Coins and you'll gain the ability to restart an episode if you die. This is invaluable in later seasons when the difficulty keeps ramping up.
The upgrades range from offensive shots that can spread, fire faster, fire in bursts, or even set other ships on fire, to defensive that can raise your health or shield, or even protect you from various environmental hazards. You'll also unlock various blueprints for your ship which will then unlock those upgrades in the shop. Granted, they're not guaranteed to be there when you need them, but they will be in rotation.
Think of each episode of Galak-Z like a new run of Spelunky. They're always random, meaning that you can't simply practice a level enough until you beat it. Instead, you're really just practicing various maneuvers and tactics that best work against certain enemies. In the beginning, you'll find that even the smaller enemies can be a pain, though after you've taken down 20 of them, you won't even blink an eye when you see them.
However, Galak-Z isn't just about destroying any enemies you come across. Stealth is actually a huge element of the game, and if you plan on surviving a bulk of the episodes, you'll need to learn how to successfully get by various enemies unseen. Whenever you accelerate or boost, you'll see a translucent blue circle appear around your ship. This circle indicates when other ships can see or hear you. There are also three separate factions in the game, the Empire, Bugs and Raiders, all who are against one another. Sometimes it's simply in your best interest to let them fight it out while you stealthily drift by.
If there is only one minor complaint, it's that the controls can sometimes feel overwhelming. Since each ship form has completely separate abilities, you have a lot to keep track of. When you're surrounded by eight different ships all charging at you (and all conveniently the same faction) it can be difficult to remember all your various offensive and defensive capabilities in the heat of the moment. Other Roguelikes usually tend to keep the control schemes simple, allowing players to quickly learn the control scheme and then focus on skill to survive. In Galak-Z, I'm always fighting two battles, the one against the real enemies, and the other with my mind trying to remember how to control my damn ship. However, I can't really score it lower for complexity. Many players will love the game even more for this aspect, but just know that it can get pretty hectic.
It's also important enough to mention that while the game plays smoothly 99% of the time, it does have some slight framerate hiccups when things get a little too crazy. I'm hoping 17bit can patch this out in the future.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional is one of the finest new Roguelikes to grace the PS4. It's devilishly hard, like throw-your-controller hard, but like many other games in the genre, it makes the taste of victory that much sweeter.