The first thing that Galak-Z reminds me off, before you even get into the gameplay of it is that of a Saturday morning cartoon. You’ve all watched them as kids, bright, overly enthusiastic characters, that distinctive soundtrack. This game is a Saturday morning cartoon; inspired by an anime style it looks great.
To my surprise then, the game is hard as nails. Brutally hard in fact, it took a very long time to get to the second ‘season’. The game is broken into levels, five of which complete each season. Again, this harks back to the TV-show inspired format, but unlike a Saturday morning TV show you’re not sent back to the start of the entire season for a small mistake.
The gameplay is Asteroid yet its biggest similarity is to something like Spelunky. This sounds like a strange comparison given how different the two games are. Piloting your ship is exactly like Asteroid, blast a little, propelled through space using your momentum and firing – there are a lot of asteroids around too! There are more control enhancements which come to light – a reverse thruster, ability to side-strafe and juke enemies or their attacks build upon a very simple concept and are introduced in turn well. A later upgrade adds a significant enhancement with melee capability to the ship also provoking different strategies. The Spelunky comparison comes in the structure of the game.
As mentioned, failure in any one of the five levels takes you back to the start of the season. Once you’ve opened up a new season you’re free to start from that point onwards – but you start with nothing, whereas if you play through you keep your earnings and upgrades from the previous season. This is almost exactly the same to how Spelunky works with shortcuts and zones. Space wreckage is collected which you can use to spend on upgrades to your ship – more missiles, replenished ammo, a better rate of fire etc., and you can tweak these as you buy them. But once you’re dead, they’re all gone and you’ll have to start all over.
The slight admission of the difficulty is that if you find blueprints – these are available through subsequent playthroughs. Perhaps you stumble across an improved laser fire spread blueprint – next time you play a new season, this is available to buy so long as you have the parts. This can help get back up to speed if you’re starting a season afresh, knowing that you can go scavenging to get the bits for that upgrade you have stowed. You can also find coins – these coins are transferred into wreckage for you on the next playthrough so it’s worth stocking up to give yourself a currency boost which means you’re not completely starting broke.
I love the anime-inspired visuals in the game. You always see a little image of your character in the bottom left, who smiles, grimaces when under attack and grits his teeth while boosting. You also see an image of the baddies when they crop up and dialogue is exchange as the battle commences. The script is pretty good, there’s some repetition in game but it’s really well delivered and I love the interaction between characters. There are some quality one-liners and the baddies have different accents too – early one some of the Empire opponents you come across have comedy British accents.
The gameplay is ultimately the star. The intro cut scene does a good job of playing out the Asteroid style of boost, turn and shoot (explained by lack of power on the ship) and it’s really slick flying around, boosting, turning and shooting a variety of enemies. There’s a lot going on, and it can get chaotic but the game is at it’s best when the stakes are really high. You’re far in a season, low health, and are blasting very slowly at low thrust through a cave as to not alert enemy patrols. You’ll often find yourself holed up, not wanting to disrupt a wave of attackers so you can make it out and continue to stay alive. For a fast paced explosive game, the best moments come in solitude and desperation. Repetition doesn’t really help either as the levels are procedurally generated so it’s always different.
Which brings us back to the difficulty. It’s hard, sometimes punishingly so. Roguelike games need a delicate balance of frustration vs. reward and for me, Galak-Z is slightly too far on the frustration side. Not quite enough to not enjoying the game however, but just enough to stop this being a real smash hit.
Reviewed on PS4