It’s been a pretty decent summer of little games being offered up here and there in the absence of AAA releases, and Galak-Z comes in right at the foot of a much busier fall season that’s about to kick off with a bang. It’s kind of the perfect time for it, with summer dying down and many gamers looking for shorter experiences to keep them occupied until the beginning of September. Galak-Z certainly fits that bill.
In Galak-Z you play the role of A-Tak, a fighter pilot who has one of the only remaining ships from his fleet after a devastating war with the Imperial Army. Luckily for him, his ship is a touch different and a little more capable than the others. Alongside A-Tak is Beam, who is the voice in his ear providing direction and encouragement, and Crash, a merchant who sells ship upgrades and health in exchange for salvage and other ‘space junk’.
As the game progresses, A-Tak and his crew pursue their goal of rescuing other pilots, while obtaining food and other resources left floating out in space. Alongside that they also find themselves fighting Imperial Army ships of different sizes and abilities, as well as a variety of space pirates and space bugs that also come in an array of forms.
At first glance, Galak-Z looks like a dual-stick shooter, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, I rarely found myself using the right stick and its ‘peek’ function at all. Instead, you use the left stick to control the direction the ship is facing, and a combination of throttle and brake tied to the shoulder buttons to manoeuvre the ship around the level. Later on, you gain additional ship abilities such as juke and thrust, which adds the power to dodge and strafe, respectively.
Though a little different than I’ve experienced in any other game like this, the ship is actually quite fun to control, it’s just really difficult to get used to and learn to use effectively. I kept trying to grab the right stick to help move A-Tak around but eventually managed to break free of that habit. The Juke is simple to use and requires a single button press, but the thrust takes more time to master, as the direction of its strafe changes depending on the ship’s orientation and the direction you’re moving.
This is really the area of the game that’s going to make or break the experience for most players. The difficulty never feels cheap or unreasonable, but I found it very easy to lose complete control of my ship in the middle of hectic situations. Thankfully, hitting walls and most other inanimate objects doesn’t hurt you, but it’s easy to get backed into a corner or situations that are downright punishing to finesse your way out of.
Thankfully, it’s not just finesse A-Tak’s ship gains as the game progress. You’re also given a plethora of munitions upgrades that range from different firing rates, elemental damage, a lock-on missile launcher, and many more that can really give you an advantage once you properly figure out the best way to utilise them. Once you clear the first five levels, you also discover that A-Tak’s ship can turn into a mech with a sword and shield, capable of grabbing and throwing enemies or objects for simultaneous damage. I found the vanilla ship more useful than the mech, but the mech offered a nice change of pace now and again, and there were moments when it came in very handy.
Maybe going in guns blazing isn’t the approach you prefer? Some scenarios require an aggressive tack but there are also quite a few times when stealth can be a factor. I found I could often avoid firefights altogether, or at the very least sneak up on my enemies to be sure I fired the first volley. The ability to tiptoe around enemies came in very handy in later stages, when my life wasn’t in great shape but I was near the end of a level.
The story of Galak-Z takes place through several seasons of play, each containing their own set of levels and requiring you to finish all of them before your progress is saved and you move onto the next season. On the one hand, failing the final mission and resetting to the beginning of the season can be very frustrating, but the levels seem to be procedurally generated, so you’re not just playing through the same stuff over and over again if you fail. On the other hand, the cost of death does often feel a little too steep, as you lose all your upgrades when you fail, and the new missions I got almost always felt very similar to the previous set.
One surprising element to Galak-Z is how good the dialog is. A-Tak is packed full of snarky one-liners and funny quips, and his banter with Beam is top notch. Their constant ribbing and A-Tak’s hatred for bugs never really got old, and the voice acting and writing paired nicely to offer a refreshing amount of charm.
The only real hurdle to clear when offering a recommendation for Galak-Z is the difficulty. The ship is fun to use but it takes a long time to master, and the game does require mastery of movement to progress into the later stages. That paired with resetting progress to the beginning of the season and losing all your upgrades sometimes feels like a bit much, particularly after enduring a steep and lengthy learning curve.
If you can get over that though, there’s a great game to be found here. It’s visually pleasing, the audio is top-notch, the writing is good, and outside of a few technical hiccups here and there, it performs pretty well. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Galak-Z offers enough depth and fun that it will likely keep you coming back, even after you’ve died for the hundredth time.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4