In Galak-Z you take on the role of ATak, a rebel space pilot who is the last remaining member of the rebel fleet after he fled from an attack by the Imperials in a prototype ship. Despite these dark beginnings, things soon take a positive turn when he meets his jovial commander Beam. They team up and set off on a series of missions in order to stop the Imperials and save the world.
The game is a clear homage to retro top down 2D shooters in the style of Asteroids, with stylised graphics and voice acting. However, in addition to space rocks, you get to shoot other spaceships as well. Each enemy has a cone of vision and you are given the choice of whether to blast them to smithereens on sight with your missiles or sneak around and pick ships off individually using your laser weapons. When you do engage, the dogfights become intense. The loose controls make you feel the weight of the ship and mean the player is never in complete control of a situation. This turns the fights into a series little dances around enemies and other hazards with the hope that your shots break their shields and go through to the hull. Part way through the game you are given the ability to transform into a mech as well. This focuses more on melee combat and provides the player with the option to vary their play style depending on the situation.
The game is structured into five seasons each with five missions. As you advance through each mission you collect ‘salvage’ which you can turn into upgrades for your ship. These upgrades are varied and satisfying, allowing the player to tune their ship however they want. This encourages an element of exploration as well. Levels are set in semiopen worlds with places to explore aside from the goal. Blueprints and extra salvage are rewarded to those who stray from the path, unlocking new upgrades in the shop. However, it’s best not to get too attached to these as if you die you return to the start of the season, losing all your salvage and upgrades.
In this unforgiving difficulty lies the draw of Galak-Z. It can quickly turn from a walk in the park to a controllers out the window. Additionally, damage carries on from one mission to the next making each hit point something sacred. This means that one particularly stubborn enemy or well placed environmental hazard can lead to a frustrating end but the game itself is fun enough to compensate for this and encourage you to keep trying. And of course, there is an easier arcade mode for those who just want to leisurely shoot bad guys in space.
Having said that it is worthwhile persevering through the game’s difficulty. Each mission feels like a genuine accomplishment and there are huge boss fights at the end of each season to offer the player one final test. These tend to be challenging and much more terrifying than the normal enemies, but they are often fair, allowing the player the time to figure out their patterns and beat them first time.
Overall, if unforgiving difficulty is not your thing then you are not going to find much here. However, for those that do enjoy a challenge, Galak-Z offers a fresh and stylistic take on top down retro shooters that will keep you trying.