[PS Plus Reviews] March 2016- Galak-Z The Dimensional

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Disclaimer: This post is made as an entry for PS Asia’s PS Plus Junior Reporter competition. The points and views raised in the review however are not affected in any way.

There’s a certain charm to old 80’s cartoons, more specifically English-translated anime. It’s stylised in a way, with cool sound effects and music. So is he 80’s in general. VHS tapes were the main media format, and recording the cartoons on them were the way to go watch them over and over again, although the sound and image can get distorted a bit, but bearable. The 80’s were also when space-themed games are popular, and like all games during those days, can be quite difficult and punishing in design.

Now roll all those sentiments I’ve mentioned into a game and you will wound up something like Galak-Z, a rougelike space shooter with twin-stick controls and slick presentation.

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Graphics & Sound

Galak-Z has some style. Presentation is made like an 80’s cartoon, or an 80’s anime, since the logo has a Japanese styling, along with appropriate katakana on it. Heck, the name Galak-Z is something so Japanese in feeling as well. There’s also cel-shaded 3D graphics and the 2D anime style characters.

The options menu takes a form of a VHS settings menu, with all the right effects and sizzles to sell it off as one. Small details like this littered on the whole of Galak-Z, the expressive face of the pilot A-Tak for each action done, displayed at the lower left screen. The slick intro to a level that’s also a loading screens (complete with random loading text like the classic “reticulating splines” to a more appropriate “setting APU to off”- that’s something you’d do to start a plane, or in this case a space ship). The slick outro/level complete screen. All of them look great.

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Sound-wise, Galak-Z is on point. Not only the tunes are all appropriate and helps sets the right mood for the cutscenes and general gameplay, the music flows exceptionally well to one track to another. The music mixes nicely from one track to another, and sound cues plays a lot in the gameplay too. Sound effects are nicely done as well, with good spatial sound cues. Special points to the voice-acting too. Their lines may not be clever or very well-written, but the voices doesn’t struck me as annoying. Just ok and bearable, and some neat effects too- the sudden cut-off of the enemies’ lines as they are destroyed mid-sentence.

Presentation on the whole is on point.

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Gameplay

Galak-Z is a side-scrolling space shooter game. Momentum plays a part of the movement, like the Asteroids game from the 80’s. Smart utilisation of thrusters is key. Forward, Reverse thrusters are straightforward, but then there’s a strafe thruster that moves you in a lateral motion, perfect for strafe-circling enemies. Then there’s boost, which you can do for all the thrusters.

Enemies come in different factions, and all hate each other. So you can bait them out fight each other instead. There’s also a stealth mechanic in play. Your thrusters emit sound that can trigger the enemies. Firing the thrusters every time for movement can be risky, so understanding how momentum works.

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Your ship will later on gain the ability to transform (with a satisfying, Transformers-esque sound effect, I might add) to a mech that can be passed off as a Gundam. The V-fins, the beam saber, a shield (albeit an energy based one). This adds another different mechanic as well, where you can grapple and grab stuff, debris, junk and enemies alike and throw/punch them to your liking. Also, you can parry the bullets with your saber if timed right. It’s a real risk playing with the mech, so stealth should be considered, like hiding behind a piece of debris while grabbing it.

And boy, being risky is foolish in Galak-Z, as you will be severely punished.

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To further push the 80’s theme, the game is hard and punishing like those times as well. The one shot of going through the game or it’s game over and repeat all over again now has a fancy new subgenre name: rougelike. Galak-Z is broken to 5 “seasons” and further broken down into 5 randomly-generated “episodes”- complete with a random title, random map, and a random credit to a fake writer. These episodes are basically levels, and there’s no save points in between the 5 levels. Die, or quitting mid-season, and you have to start it all over again. Plenty of prompts making this idea clear: this is no walk in the park, there are real stakes here.

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You have ship upgrades and laser upgrades to help you out throughout the season. Some ship upgrades are temporary- like a temporary boost to your maximum shield, which increases the maximum by one but gone if all the shields are gone. Others carry throughout the season, but lost as you begin a new one. There are permanent stuff too, like unlocking blueprints- which will make some upgrades available to purchase in subsequent runs. To help your next run be easier, you can earn Crash Tokens, dropped as you clear out more enemies, that can be cashed in for salvage- your currency- for ship upgrades. Have 5 of them in a run and you can even cash-in them for a second chance of the run. Handy if you are on the last episode and not willing to restart another run again. You will start without all the ship upgrades, but can be collected in a supply cache hiding in the level.

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Content & Longevity

Speaking on content, once you reached season 2, you’ve gotten all the game mechanics you need, and all it’s left are the unique level designs being introduced each season. Season 1 only has caves. Season 2 adds huge derelict spacecraft. Then there’s all the unique upgrades to try out. The laser upgrades are the most satisfying as it is modular- so you can mix and match some upgrades to create a menacing arc of lasers or any sort of combination works best for your playstyle- I prefer Autofire with burst spread and ricochet rounds.

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Yes, it’s only 5 seasons long, and that means it can be pretty short, if you’re good at it. Each season ramps up the difficulty even harder so you have to learn and adapt with all the new tricks the enemies are using to ensure you can make it further. Some may argue that the rougelike elements feel out of place, or the game would have benefited more if it played it straight, or it’s an artificial way to pad the game’s length. For me, I’m with the other camp. If the game is played straight, it would be just boring. Level designs are all random but can be samey. Adding more seasons means more of the same random levels that has no stakes, a very OP ship, and boring objectives.

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Making it short but hard is a concious decision that 17-Bit did, and I like it, despite not making much progress in my own playthrough. The shortness makes the game don’t overstay its welcome, and the stakes introduced makes you want to learn being a better pilot, and ensures you’re making fight-or-flight decisions plenty of times, which makes stealth useful if not a crucial method of play. Fight to gain more salvage? Or hide and not risking an already fantastic run in which you’ve made the furthest of progression?

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Summary

Galak-Z  The Dimensional is a well-made, polished game that does interesting things with its theme form both an aesthetic and gameplay point of view. It takes time to master the vast options offered by your ship/mech which makes repeating another run after a failed attempt something to be expected. Galak-Z rewards the patient and the dedicated, a nice parallel to how dedicated to the 80’s theme 17-Bit has gone to replicate.

Don’t worry about not making progress, the moment-to-moment gameplay is tight and fun, the soundtrack will keep you company, and if you love the 80’s vibe, then hop right in. A solid 8/10, plus 1 point for the polish and attention to detail, a rarity to see in current games that are rushed, or don’t mind being constantly updated with bug fixes.

(Note: On launch months ago it was to reported to be a bit rough, but since I only started playing it now paints me such impressions)

Looking for other PS Plus free games of the month reviews? I have you covered. Click here for a full list of games I managed to cover.

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