Galak-Z: The Dimensional Review: From Space!
I’d like to think that if I were ever going to make a game, it would be a lot like Galak-Z: The Dimensional. I would want my game to have a pick up and play nature that you could enjoy for a few minutes, or sit in front of for hours on end. It would have solid controls and gameplay that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. It would have a really rad aesthetic and most importantly, it would be great fun to play. I’m probably never going to make a game, so I’m very happy that Galak-Z exists.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional can be categorised as a rogue-like space-shooter, yet it sets itself apart by combining the best elements of both of these genre’s to create a rather unique experience. You play as A-Tak; a brash, cocky, young space pilot that gets mixed up in a galactic war between earth and an overbearing galactic empire known as the Imperials. The game’s aesthetic is based heavily on late 80's and early 90's anime and even goes so far as structuring the game’s levels as syndicated TV episodes with a number of seasons.
Much like the TV shows of that era, the overarching story is silly and not particularly compelling, while the plotlines of the syndication-style episodes are mostly irrelevant to the narrative. However, the implementation of these episodes is used rather ingeniously to create a highly replayable campaign.
The game consists of five ‘seasons’, and each season consists of five ‘episodes’, which are levels with objectives that must be accomplished in order to move onto the next episode. In true syndicated television fashion, the episodes are created to be interchangeable and are different every time you play. For example, Episode 2 of Season 2 originally involved finding food rations for my starving crewmates - unfortunately, I was unable to complete this mission as I died five minutes into the run. Upon returning to the menu and retrying the mission, I learned that Episode 2 of Season 2 now involved retrieving an artefact from within a desolated space station. Later on, I learned the objective of Episode 4 of Season 2 had the previous mission objectives of finding food rations for my crew.
This system of interchangeable mission objectives is great for a number of reasons. The first is that it makes the campaign highly replayable whilst still feeling fresh each time. The second is that it halts any familiarity a player may develop with a level, making each run feel new and gives a great sense of trepidation, risk and adventure every time.
This feeling is further compounded by another of Galak-Z’s great design systems: procedurally generated levels. The game uses a complex algorithm to generate it’s huge, open levels using a variety of factors, which ensures that no levels are ever structured the same. The algorithm is smart enough to create cohesive levels that make sense and are fully playable, however the enemies, loot, location of objectives and level layout are always different.
Galak-Z plays something like Luftrausers set in space, with gradius-esque weapons and a huge focus on fast-paced, momentum-based combat. As a result, Galak-Z’s control scheme is a real handful – literally. Almost every button on the controller has a function that is as vital as the other and all will need to be used in order to overcome the ruthless enemy AI. The right trigger is used for primary thrusters – your basic forward acceleration – and will be the main source of momentum as you explore through space. The Left trigger is used as reverse thrusters and activating both at the same time keeps you stationary. The left bumper is used to strafe and can be used to circle enemies whilst pelting them with fire – a standard manoeuver that is crucial for overcoming even the most basic enemy type in the game. The right bumper controls your boost, which greatly increases the strength of any activated thrusters (including the strafe) and is tied to a meter that replenishes with non-use.
Combat is equally involved, due in no small part to your ship’s remarkable ability to transform between basic plane mode and a totally rad, sword-wielding mech with the press of a button. In plane mode you have a basic gradius-style laser and the ability to fire a barrage of missiles at locked-on targets. You also have the ability to do a quick juke at the tap of a button that allows you to quickly avoid incoming attacks. Swapping to Mech mode grants the ability to swipe with your sword, which can be held to charge up a more powerful slash. A grappling hook is also made available that can be used to grab enemies, asteroids, bombs and items, which can then be dragged around with you or flung with force. You can also bring up a shield that can be used to protect you from enemy fire and other environmental hazards.
The control scheme sounds overwhelming on paper, yet the game does a great job of introducing the mechanics and difficulty at a steady pace to ensure the player doesn’t get overwhelmed too quickly. The controls are easy to pick up, but mastering the combination of movement and combat will take time and practise. As you get more comfortable with the control scheme, combat becomes less of a chaotic scramble, and starts to resemble an aerial ballet of sorts. There’s a real flow and grace to the controlled movements that is very satisfying.
Mastering these controls is crucial to progressing through Galak-Z’s campaign as a lot of the enemies have similar functions to your own - and they really know how to use them. Enemies will strafe around you, read your momentum to dodge shots and chase you down relentlessly. Most enemies even have shields and will flee from fights when they are exposed, only to return when their shields are back at full capacity making fights with multiple enemies a real threat.
As you explore levels, defeat enemies and complete objectives, you will be constantly acquiring scrap, a form of currency that can be used to upgrade your ship. There are a ton of different upgrades to collect resulting in a huge variety of ways to customise your ship to suit your preferred play style. Almost everything about your ship can be modified in one way or another; movement speed, shield recharge rate, the size of your bullets, the time it takes to lock onto enemies – you can even get modifiers that make your bullets bounce or set fire to enemies. Some of the better upgrades can only be acquired from loot cache’s hidden throughout the levels or by collecting blueprints dropped by certain enemies, making exploration a vital part of the experience.
Upgrading your ship is extremely important, as Galak-Z can get real tough during the later seasons. The game features two modes: the original Rogue mode and the new Arcade mode that has been introduced with the PC version. In Rogue mode, dying means you start from scratch at the beginning of the season. Unlocked blueprints are still available, yet everything that you bought or upgraded in that season is gone. Arcade mode makes things a bit easier by simply requiring you to restart the episode upon death, yet your upgrades and scrap acquired on that level are lost. Arcade mode is a real blessing for people like me, as one wrong move can be the end of you at any given moment and having hours of progress lost in the blink of an eye is not only devastating, but also extremely frustrating.
One of the strongest aspects of Galak-Z is it’s unique aesthetic and brilliant art style. The game’s prolific late 80’s sci-fi anime aesthetic is great fun and really hits the nostalgia soft-spot for those of us that grew up with the likes of Transformers and Gundam. It isn’t just the game’s TV episode structure; everything from the voice-acting, music, sound effects and character design invokes a strong sense of nostalgia from the era that is highly effective. The game uses a cell-shaded-esque visual motif that gives it that characteristic cartoon look, which is further enhanced by a vibrant, colourful art style. Put simply, the game looks gorgeous and the nostalgia trappings really go a long way to enhance the gameplay.
There’s so much more I could say about Galak-Z: The Dimensional and why I enjoy it so much, but the bottom line is that it’s just a damn fun time. The action is engaging, the gameplay loop is satisfying, the setting is interesting and the aesthetics make me feel warm inside. There are so many aspects to Galak-Z that it’s an easy recommendation to almost anyone, as there will no doubt be one thing or another about the game that draws you in and will keep you rollicking through space for hours on end.