An indie game-maker does not face pressure from those which holds its purse-strings to build on proven-profitable IPs. Therefore, the next game which it makes can be altogether different from its previous game. This is the case with 17-bit.
17-bit’s previous game was Skulls of the Shogun, which is a turn-based strategy game with simple gameplay elements. Therefore, it may come as a surprise that the game which comes after (DLC notwithstanding) is a 2D twin-stick shooter/slasher with rogue-lite elements.
This should have been a refreshing change, but the game would reveal gaps in the design direction of 17-bit.
Galak-Z’s setting is inspired by the mecha segment of Japanese entertainment. To elaborate, that segment is about sci-fi stories of pilots with exceptional skill – and more often than not, lack of wit – who operate powerful one-of-a-kind war machines against overwhelming odds. In particular, Galak-Z’s presentation is focused on the 1980s era of that entertainment scene.
Anyway, Galak-Z is set in a sci-fi universe where humans have gone to the stars – and found out that they are not alone and space can do terrible things to them.
Humanity as it is recognized has formed the “UENA”, the full name of which would not be mentioned here; rather, it would be said here that it is the game’s take on the trope of the star-spanning freedom- and unity-loving governments as seen in so many mecha stories like those in the Gundam IP.
That said, like the interstellar governments in those other stories, it is threatened by other star-spanning powers. In the case of this game, it is the “Empire”, which is, of course, the equivalent of the war-mongering empires seen in those mecha stories (especially in the 1980s). Also, of course, the Empire is winning.
To be specific, the game starts with a calamity for the UENA; its main fleet has somehow been ambushed and destroyed. The only survivors are the cruiser Axelios and – of course – an experimental combat vessel.
The latter is piloted by the game’s take on the young and talented but incorrigibly reckless pilot archetype that is so often the protagonist of Japanese mecha fiction. He is Adam Takamoto, who prefers to be called by a cheesy abbreviation of his name, “A-Tak”.
Early on in the story, he is contacted by Beam, the first commanding officer of the Axelios. After joining the Axelios, they would then go on to rescue one other main character, while waging a guerrilla war against the Empire.
Overall, the story is mostly forgettable. This would not have been a problem, as the focus of the game is on its gameplay. Yet, considering that 17-bit has told a more sophisticated and fulfilling story through the campaign mode of Skulls of the Shogun, Galak-Z’s story is a bit of a let-down. This impression gets all the stronger when one considers the fact that the story ends in a cliffhanger (which was not tied up with the release of “The Void” DLC, by the way).
MOVING IN “SPACE”:
For better or worse, Galak-Z is yet another indie game which simplifies space into a 2D plane. On the other hand, this is the set-up which is needed for a twin-stick shooter, of which Galak-Z is one.
The aforementioned experimental vessel, which is the eponymous Galak-Z, is rather fragile; it can only take a few hits before it is done for, and its energy shields are not very thick. However, it is a small and incredibly nimble fighter that can fly rings around almost anything. There is also a generous zoomed-out view that the player gets.
When playing with the mouse and keyboard, the movement inputs have to be made with consideration of the position and facing of the Galak-Z. For example, entering a forward input causes the vessel to move forward according to its facing. The orientation of the camera is irrelevant.
This can take a while to get used to, especially if the player has played a lot of games where the camera’s orientation is tied to that of the player character. On the other hand, the analog stick of a controller does not have such a quirk and is more straightforward to use.
The computer version of Galak-Z has an additional option for control inputs that any player should take advantage of: a mouse-controlled cursor for aiming and moving purposes.
By default, the game uses visual indicators which are better designed for control inputs with analog sticks. Turning on the mouse-control options makes aiming with the fighter mode’s lasers and the mech mode’s grappling arm much easier (more on these later).
That said, there is nothing in the tutorials which mention this option. There is next to no in-game documentation on it too.
The content of the original version of this game is represented by four “seasons”; practically, these are groups of levels. The first season is intended as an extended tutorial, showing only the surface of the content to be seen in the other seasons. The second season introduces more mechanisms, which include the mech mode that will be described later.
The third and fourth seasons introduce increasingly more powerful enemies, as well as develop more of the story – if they can even be called “story development”.
There are more nuances with the designs of the seasons, such as the “adaptive difficulty” scripting which is intended to provide players of differing skill level with a hopefully appropriate challenge. These will be described later, because they work in concert with other gameplay elements.
The default mode of the Galak-Z fighter vessel resembles a jet-plane, albeit with comically huge thruster engines at its rear. In this mode, the Galak-Z can fire its laser guns, which as one would expect of laser guns in 1980s sci-fi fiction, fire slower-than-light pulses of incandescent energy. There are two other abilities that the Fighter mode has which will be described shortly.
While the Galak-Z is in fighter mode, the player can enable a mode which lets it target enemies with missiles. A cone appears in front of the vessel’s nose; any enemy which is caught in the cone will be targeted for the subsequent attack. Having them remain in the cone longer means that they will be hit by more missiles (up to three per target).
Releasing the targeting mode launches barrage of missiles at the targets. The missiles are launched with wide arcs away from the Galak-Z and they seem to fly around (or rather, clip through) most obstacles. The missiles inflict considerable damage and have slight area effect damage, which makes them very effective against unsuspecting squadrons of enemies (which have a tendency to cluster together tightly).
With its lasers and missiles, the fighter mode is very much the Galak-Z’s primary means of ranged combat.
The other ability that is unique to the fighter mode is its juking. With the press of a button, the Galak-Z appears to barrel roll up and out of the screen, practically gaining a few moments of invulnerability while maintaining mobility. (The Galak-Z cannot fire its lasers while juking however.)
The Galak-Z can also juke over enemies in its path, provided that it has already built up enough speed to do so. (Even if the Galak-Z ends its juke “over” an enemy, the Galak-Z is merely pushed away from the enemy in the direction at which it was moving.)
Juking is effective against enemies with relatively slow movement and noticeable firing patterns; it is easy for the player to have the Galak-Z focus its fire on them, while dodging their return fire. However, if there are multiple enemies, the lattice of incoming fire that they make may be too much to be dodged with jukes.
The main reason to use the fighter mode is its lasers. However, by default, the lasers are not very formidable, or even reliable: their shots have to be led in the case of mobile enemies, and after a second or two of continuous firing, the shots begin to scatter, making long-distance shooting unfeasible.
Fortunately, the Galak-Z’s lasers can be modified to be better, or to simply suit the player’s preferred playstyle. These modifications come in the form of options which affect the spreading of shots, the speed and frequency of the shots, the damage of the shots, any secondary effect of the shots and some more. These options are collectively called “Laser Upgrades” in-game.
For example, the Assault Muzzle provides a tighter spread to the shots, while increasing their speed. As another example, the Pellet Particles change the laser shots into a swath of lower damage pellets. Together, these two Upgrades make it very easy to hit most enemies.
However, before any modification can be done, the player must find Laser Upgrades while in the field or buy them from Crash. The player can switch between Upgrades of the same type, but can only do so before missions or at one of Crash’s Stashes (more on these later). This means that the player might want to avoid taking unwanted Laser Upgrades, at least before clearing a path to Crash’s ship.
The other mode of the Galak-Z is the “mech” mode. The Galak-Z changes to a humanoid form, losing its laser guns. In return, it gains a laser sword and a grappling arm in return.
Interestingly, in this state, the Galak-Z has as much mobility as it does in fighter mode. This is just as well, because the mech mode needs that mobility (if not even more so). However, the mech mode cannot juke. Instead, it has a directional shield, which will be described shortly.
The directional shield has its own durability, separate from the shields which the Galak-Z itself has. Obviously, it can only block attacks which hit its facing, and only for so many hits. However, it appears to recharge all the time (unlike the Galak-Z’s shields), as long as it has not been dropped.
However, the shield cannot be raised when the Galak-Z swings its sword or uses its grapples, so the player might want to time their use carefully.
Interestingly, raising the directional shield does not impede the Galak-Z’s mobility whatsoever. That said, it would have been better if the Galak-Z is always raising its shield all the time, including when it is moving about. However, there is no way to do so other than to hold down the input button for raising the shield.
(That said, this would be addressed in the mobile version of the game which ‘soft-launched’ in the Philippines.)
A mecha machine would not be one if it does not have a melee weapon. In the case of the Galak-Z’s mech mode, it has a laser sword.
Unfortunately, for all its great looks, the laser sword makes a bad first impression when it is used for the first time in actual gameplay: it is not very powerful. In fact, many enemies would take several strikes to be destroyed.
The sword can be charged to deliver a more powerful blow, but this takes a few seconds. Yet, the charged strike is not that much more powerful than a regular strike. Furthermore, charging cannot be done when the directional shield is raised. The player must also consider the opportunity cost of spending time to charge a strike instead of doing something else that might be more tactically prudent.
The laser sword has a few upgrades, but it has no options whatsoever, unlike the Galak-Z’s laser guns. This can make the laser sword – and the mech mode – seem less worthwhile at first glance. However, it is meant to be used together with the mech mode’s unique gear: the grappling arm, which will be described later.
Perhaps the most amusing and entertaining aspect of the laser sword is its ability to hit incoming projectiles and deflect them towards whichever direction that the Galak-Z is pointing to. The player will need to consider the timing of the attack animations for the word and compare it against the speed of incoming projectiles, but being able to deflect shots readily is a sign of great skill on the part of the player. On the other hand, the player should not expect reflected shots to take out enemies easily; the Galak-Z’s own weapons will be doing most of the death-dealing.
The main reason to use the mech mode is the grappling arm. Indeed, it is incredibly useful against most enemies, especially if they are alone.
With the same control input that is used for missile lock-on of the fighter mode, the Galak-Z projects a cone that shows the enemy which would be caught by the arm when it launches.
Actually, in practice, the player does not need the cone-shaped visual indicator anyway. As long as the player is aiming in the direction of an enemy and has timed the launch well, the grappling arm will grab the enemy, regardless of whether the cone has been projected or not. Besides, the cone does not guarantee a catch; the enemy can still fly out of the way of the arm, or the wrong enemy would be caught, if they are bunched up close.
Any enemy that is grabbed by the arm is drawn into the Galak-Z’s grip. The enemy is generally rendered helpless for at least a moment; weak enemies like the Imperials’ cannon fodder ships can be held for a long, long time before they manage to shake loose, whereas stronger enemies like other mechs can break the grip very quickly.
If the enemy breaks free of the grip, the grappling arm cannot be used for a couple of short but noticeable seconds. Therefore, the player should not hold onto an enemy for too long.
Before the enemy breaks free of the grip, the Galak-Z can do two things with it: kick, punch and slash it (all these attacks inflict the same amounts of damage), or release it and kick it away. In fact, it may be prudent to do both, in that order.
In the case of kicking the enemy away, it is flung for a distance that is usually half a screen. If it did not hit anything, the enemy regains control. If it hits the walls of space derelicts or asteroids (more on these later), it is stunned for a few seconds, during which the player can punish it some more. Indeed, the player can repeatedly do this against a lonesome enemy, essentially rendering it helpless.
However, if the enemy hits another enemy, an environmental hazard or a meteorite, the enemy will not be stunned. This is something which the game does not inform the player about. This is because the stunned de-buff is only applied if they hit walls.
The grappling arm can also be used to give the Galak-Z a sudden lurch in the direction of the grappling arm, if it does not catch anything. In theory, skilled players could use this instead of boosting the thrusters to avoid attacks (more on boosts later). However, in practice, it means that any missed grabs with the grappling arm would cause the Galak-Z to move, which may be undesirable. Likewise, the player might want to have the Galak-Z surge forward, but the arm catches something instead.
The last but not least options which the player has in combat is the thruster boost. With the press of a button, any movement in any direction can receive a sudden increase in speed, thus foiling any attempt by enemies to lead shots into the Galak-Z.
Boosts cannot be done indefinitely, however; a gauge on the top right corner of the screen shows how much boosting can be done before the Galak-Z has to cool off. Cooling is quick, but it can be ruinous for the player to hold down the control input for boosting while in a fight against an enemy whose attacks have to be avoided within narrow windows of time.
Having described the options and upgrades for the Galak-Z, it has to be stated now that any of these that the player has collected from playing a season will be lost when the player plays another season, or retries a season. Therefore, the player has to approach the first mission of any season with care, because the Galak-Z is no longer souped-up.
Yet, there is no narrative reason for this, so there may be a sense of dissatisfaction about having lost them without any justification.
Missions are not just about fulfilling objectives; they are also opportunities to obtain the in-game currency that is used to purchase upgrades and supplies for the Galak-Z.
Typically, this “currency” is salvage, i.e. any parts from wrecks (or corpses of space monsters) which can supposedly be recycled and reused, at least where the narrative is concerned. Gameplay-wise, it is not any different from any other video game loot that pops out of defeated enemies.
Salvage can also be obtained from floating golden space containers, but the main source of salvage is from defeated enemies. Therefore, if the player is willing to risk further damage to the Galak-Z from combat, the player can search the map for enemies to destroy. The salvage will be helpful in later missions.
The player spends salvage on purchases of upgrades and supplies from Crash, a trader and engineer of sorts. Crash’s shop will be available before the start of any mission (when he presumably operates on the Axelios or near it), and he can also be found in the mission area at certain nooks and crannies.
Speaking of which, the player would eventually learn about the usual places where he sets up shop from observation. Crash’s ship often appears in isolated places, such as a small chamber aboard a derelict. Sometimes though, he might appear at very inconvenient places, like atop the surface of a lava pool. (There are lava pools in space in the fiction of Galak-Z.)
It has to be mentioned here that in order to access Crash’s shop during a mission, the player has to use the control input that is also used for the transformation of the Galak-Z. This means that the player might not want to fight anywhere near Crash’s shop if he/she has a playstyle which has him/her switching modes frequently. On the other hand, Crash’s shop does appear to block shots from enemies and their movement, whereas it does nothing to impede the player character’s own movement and shots, so the player can still exploit its presence.
Just after the player has installed and started the game, the offerings at Crash’s shop begin with some basic goods, such as repair kits and missile restocks (assuming that the adaptive difficulty scripting did not remove them). For more special goods to appear, assuming that the Galak-Z does not already have them, the player has to find “fragments” of “blueprints”.
After obtaining all of the fragments for a blueprint, the item which is named in the blueprint is made available in Crash’s shop (though this is not a guarantee, as will be described later). The blueprint for a type of item usually require 3 fragments, but the blueprints for some particularly expensive equipment require 4 fragments each.
Completed blueprints are the rogue-lite element of the game; whereas other things which the player has obtained are lost when the player has run out of Crash Coins (more on these later), blueprints which have been completed will be retained. (Blueprint fragments will be lost, however.)
LIMITED SHOP INVENTORY:
Although completed blueprints contribute to the variety of items which can be found in Crash’s shop, they do not contribute to the quantity.
The inventory in Crash’s shop is refreshed just before the beginning of a mission; this will be the inventory which the player gets to buy things from prior to a mission, and there is only ever one unit of each item. When the player starts a mission, the inventory is refreshed again; this will be the inventory which the player gets when the player finds Crash’s ship somewhere in the mission area. Again, there is only unit for each type of item on sale.
There are only ever close to a dozen items in Crash’s shop at any time – less if the adaptive difficulty scripting have reduced their number. The items are randomly picked from the items which the player has unlocked from completing blueprints, so there may not always be something that the player would want to purchase. However, any item that is already installed on the Galak-Z will not appear; there will be something else in their stead.
Crash coins are special loot which is rarely dropped by defeated enemies. In the original version of the game, these are the means of getting retries at a mission if the Galak-Z is destroyed. If the player does not have any Crash coins and fails in a mission, it is game-over; the entire season has to be restarted from scratch. The player can only have up to 5 coins.
Crash coins are carried over from one completed season to the next one. However, when playing a new season (or replaying a season), Crash takes the coins and converts them to salvage which the player can spend on getting upgrades before the start of the first mission.
However, this is not entirely an advantage. The number of Crash coins which the player has before starting a season is one of the factor which determines the difficulty of the challenges ahead.
ADAPTIVE DIFFICULTY OF SEASONS:
If the player has been particularly successful in playing seasons, e.g. playing entire seasons without restarting any and starting the next season with 5 Crash coins, the game may decide to “seed” the next season which the player plays with much nastier challenges.
For example, certain useful items are omitted from Crash’s shop, such as the Repair Kit. Thus, the player has to seek blueprints for these items or to hope to have the luck that these items will appear during a mission. That is with the assumption that these items would ever appear at all during a season.
As another example of increasing difficulty, the enemies which are spawned are likely to be elites, which are virtually a different class of opponents compared to the lesser enemies which the player has faced. Moreover, the more troublesome of enemies appear much more frequently, such as the agile and erratic Imperial Hammerhead gunships.
On the other hand, if the player restarted a season enough times, the game will notice this and will pare down the challenges so that the player has a greater chance of succeeding.
The game will not inform the player that it is altering the difficulty, however.
ENEMIES – OVERVIEW:
The main source of challenge provided by the game is its enemies. There are the Imperials, the Void Raiders and space-borne bugs. The Imperials are the main antagonists, whereas the Void Raiders are pirates who attack anyone else, and the bugs are just very hungry animals.
The Imperials have the greatest firepower, though this is not immediately observable. The first few Imperials are armed with standard-issue gear that can only remove one point of shielding per hit. For example, the lowest of the Imperials pilot small ships called “Piranhas” which are weak.
However, the more elite Imperials which appear later can easily strip the Galak-Z of its shields. Returning to the Piranha, its elite variant has two weapons: a gun which fires two small bolts of plasma, and another gun which fires a big bolt of plasma.
The Imperials also field mech suits, but these do not have transformation capabilities. They are very risky to grapple, because they can attack the Galak-Z while they are in its grip.
There are also Imperial capital ships which can appear in the mission area in the later seasons. Although these are smaller than the Imperial dreadnoughts (which only ever appear in cutscenes), they have considerable armaments. For example, from afar, they can fire their prow-mounted beam cannon, which has a short-charging time. If the Galak-Z gets too close, they use their rapid-fire batteries instead.
Perhaps the most challenging Imperial enemy is the Hammerhead. This is one of two of the most mobile enemies in the game, and can be hard to hit if the player cannot find some way to slow them down or immobilize them. (The sticky gel upgrade for missiles works very well against them.)
Void Raiders were space-farers who have stayed too long in space and exposed themselves to the radiation which emits from the “Void”, a black-hole-like anomaly. They are now mad pirates with personality issues and destructive tendencies.
In actual gameplay, they are enemies with peculiar choices of weaponry. For example, the Hyena is a fast vessel which attempts to shadow its target as close as possible before firing its shotgun-like magma cannon. Its movement is even more erratic than the Imperial Hammerhead.
Another notable Void Raider is a mech, which is piloted by an individual who more than resembles Juan of Guacamelee! This is obviously another example of an indie-developed game paying tribute to another indie-developed game.
There are giant bulbous bugs, which appear to move about in space by farting gas. These are easily the stupidest of enemies. They do not have shields, do not dodge attacks and fly in the shortest route to their prey. They do have a lot of hitpoints and powerful bites, but these are not strong advantages. There are smaller, nimbler bugs which attack in groups; these are a bit more challenging, but they do not have a lot of durability.
Finally, there are lurking bugs, which only ever appear in asteroids. They hide behind the foreground layer, waiting for anything to pass by (including other bugs). When potential prey is close, they edge out, revealing close to half of their main bodies. During this time, they are vulnerable to being shot at, though the contours of the rocks around them might prohibit shooting. If their prey is still within striking distance, they lunge out to grab it. They will inflict damage as long as their prey remains in their grasp, but in the case of “prey” which are actually armed ships, the ships can shoot the bugs even as they are being munched on. Eventually, the bugs will release them and withdraw behind the foreground layer.
Later, there are variants of the bugs which can spit things at their prey, such as globs of slime which slow the latter down. They are obviously more troublesome, but only just; they are as stupid as the other bugs.
DIFFERENT FACTIONS FIGHT EACH OTHER:
Squads of enemies, especially the Void Raiders and Imperials, roam the map, looking for victims to destroy. If squads of different factions encounter each other, a fight ensues. Sometimes, the player might come across the remnants of such fights, though squads of enemies are often placed far from each other when the map is procedurally generated (more on this later).
Enemies which are fighting each other often overlook the Galak-Z’s presence, especially if it is at a distance away. Therefore, it is easy for the player to pick them off, either by shooting them or plunging the grappling arm into the melee. It is usually in the player’s interest to get different squads of enemies to fight each other, though this is of course risky.
In the case of the Void Raiders and the Imperials, the challenge that they pose will increase as the playthrough progresses. They achieve this through more powerful variants of themselves. These variants appear larger than the weaker ones, and they have coloured motifs too. Darker colours typically denote them as being more formidable.
These variants have the usual and typical advantage of having more durability and firepower. In most cases, they are also faster and more observant of incoming fire from the Galak-Z. However, their larger size means that they are easier to hit too, assuming that they do stop moving.
Some elite variants of enemies do have additional capabilities; learning this the hard way can be unpleasant. For example, elite Void Raider Rhinos can launch missiles in addition to firing the Rhino archetype’s signature turret.
The pathfinding scripts for the more powerful variants of enemies are still just as bad as those of the weaker variants, however. In fact, their greater speeds and sizes actually work against them when they try to navigate the corridors of derelicts or in between asteroids.
ENEMY LINE OF SIGHT & AWARENESS:
The Imperials may not be entirely human, and the Void Raiders are practically mutants. However, they are still humanoid and have two front-facing eyes. Consequently, they have cones of vision, made narrower by the confines of their ship. The player character, of course, has no such limitation.
The colour of enemies’ cones of vision indicate their awareness of the Galak-Z’s presence. If it is white, they are oblivious. If it is yellow, they are suspicious and will move slowly towards any source of disturbance. For these two states, as long as the Galak-Z stays out of their vision cones, it can shadow them and wait for a better opportunity to launch an ambush.
The player can also distract enemies by sending debris hurtling past them to crash into something else beyond. They will investigate the debris or in the case of trigger-happy enemies, blast them to pieces.
If the enemies’ vision cone is orange (which is caused by them being harmed indirectly by the Galak-Z), they become alarmed and will move in the general direction of the Galak-Z. If it is red – which happens if the Galak-Z is within their cones of vision or they are directly damaged by the Galak-Z – they become aware of the Galak-Z’s presence and current location and will initiate pursuit.
The bugs have multiple compound eyes, so they do not have the limitation of vision cones. However, they have to get quite close in order to spot what they want to eat. As long as they have yet to do this, they will fly about at their default speed, which is slower than the speed that they move at when they are aware of their meals’ presence.
Apparently, in Galak-Z’s fictitious universe, sound somehow travels in the vacuum of space.
Anyway, this means that the player should pay attention to the noise that the Galak-Z makes when it moves around; subtle visual indicators show the range of the noise that it makes. Obviously, moving while boosting the Galak-Z’s thrusters makes more noise. The noise does not appear to be mitigated by the presence of obstacles such as walls and asteroids.
Any enemy which hears the noise will come over to investigate, which more than likely will lead to the discovery of the Galak-Z because the noise that it creates does not have a long range.
As mentioned earlier, the player can distract enemies by using the mech mode to hurl debris into other things. They will investigate the collisions and, more importantly, point their ships at the sources of noise. This gives the player a second or two to do something else after shooting them in the back.
ENVIRONMENTS & HAZARDS:
Missions do not take place in open space, due to the narrative reason that the Imperials’ dreadnoughts can spot anything that is flying through open space. Therefore, missions take place in asteroid fields, in which there are massive structures such as derelicts and huge hollowed-out asteroids. Almost all mission objectives are located inside these structures.
(The game refers to some derelicts as “bases”, but the enemy activity in them is not considerable enough to give a convincing impression that they are actual military bases.)
The interiors of derelicts are straight-edged walls, which are a bit more troublesome to maneuver around than the curvaceous walls of the interiors of asteroids. Some derelicts have barriers, such as wide bulkhead doors that prevent movement or scrap-built barricades which have to be destroyed if the player wants to make any progress.
Derelicts and asteroids have their own hazards. In the case of derelicts, there are pipeworks which can be shot to release the volatile fluids that are still somehow flowing through them. The fluids may be combustible fuel, which creates a pillar of flame that most enemies would not want to pass through. The fluids may be steam, which enemies do not fear so much but will knock them about or even pin them to a nearby wall. Derelicts also have a lot of junk floating about that can be grappled and thrown at enemies.
In the case of asteroids, there is hazardous flora growing about in the interior. For example, there are plants with bulbs that can be shot open to release spikes, shield-dropping spores or sticky gel that (somehow) slows down things. There are also pools of lava, which emit floating bubbles of lava when they are shot at.
A skilled player would make use of these hazards judiciously. For example, it does not take long for an enemy that has been tossed into lava to eventually be destroyed (though getting the loot that it releases can be a problem if the Galak-Z has not been upgraded to withstand heat hazards).
MAP SEEDS & PROCEDURAL GENERATION:
Observant players who do more than one playthrough may eventually notice that there are mission and map layout permutations which repeat. Fetch quests are particularly prominent, though justified to some degree by the narrative that the Axelios is badly in need of supplies. (The fetch quests would have been more satisfying if the player is in charge of the management of the Axelios, but alas, this game is not Faster Than Light.)
That said, even if the same map layout has appeared more than once to the player, the locations and mixtures of enemies and hazards are different. Therefore, the player should still approach any mission with caution, even if its map looks familiar.
Yet, the permutations are not enough to give the game a longevity of years. This is also because the rest of the content in the game is not diverse enough to entice multiple playthroughs.
Almost every mission requires the player to have the Galak-Z fly over to a ‘’warp beacon” for extraction. As an experienced game consumer would expect, this is the time when additional enemies would appear to complicate things. Typically, there are some powerful enemies who linger around the warp beacon. This sudden introduction of extra challenges is not without a narrative excuse, of course; Beam explains that although not everyone can use a warp beacon, anyone can detect it,
VISUAL DESIGNS – IN GENERAL:
Galak-Z makes use of layers of artwork with perspective-altering scripts for the foreground and background, as well as objects with considerable numbers in-game such as asteroids. This way, the game minimized the use of 3D models, which would have been quite taxing on a CPU.
That said, the game does use 3D models anyway. To give them a cartoonish impression, they make use of cel-shading and a lot of bright colours. The most prominent of the models is, of course, the one for the Galak-Z. It is perhaps the model with the most amount of animations, especially considering that it can switch between modes.
The 3D models are also designed so that they can be exploded into pieces (though the transition is masked by the bright plumes of explosions). This is obviously done for gratification.
Not all of the visual designs are as strikingly gaudy as an animated mecha show. The lighting of models and their shadows, in particular, appear to follow the default scripts which are used in the Unity engine (which this game is built with). This can be seen when the Galak-Z’s front-lights illuminate objects in derelicts.
The game also makes use of a lot of particle effects, especially for fired projectiles. In fact, just about every enemy archetype has their own set of particle effects for their projectiles, thus making it convenient for the player to determine which projectile should be avoided first.
There are some other visuals which are notable enough to be described in their own sections.
Most of the cutscenes which are used in the story are not done in-game, but are recorded animations. Still, the production of the cutscenes makes use of the same kind of animations that the player would see in-game: 2D sprites with animation bones and rigging, set amid 3D environments with lighting and shadowing that have been applied to mask this combination. The results are not always convincing (especially when the lighting for the sprites do not match those of their surroundings), but they are still mostly decent to look at.
The user interface already has meters for shields and hit points. The mecha mode is obviously different enough from the fighter mode such that there should not be any mistaking of one for the other. Yet, there is a portion of the user interface which is reserved for additional visual indicators about these. This is A-Tak’s animated portrait of him in the cockpit of the Galak-Z.
If the Galak-Z is at a non-critical state, A-Tak’s face brims with confidence. When it is in trouble, his expression is that of desperation and his posture also changes, while alert lights strobe about the cockpit. There are also animation frames for when the Galak-Z is in either mode; the positioning of his arm visibly changes as he shifts over to the different controls for either mode. There is also an amusing change in the shape of one of his helmet’s features.
There are also portraits for Imperials and Void Raiders. Although their animations are sparser than those for A-Tak, there is a satisfyingly amusing animation that occurs when they are defeated: the portrait stretches and breaks like a fritzing ages-old CRT display while the enemy’s face expresses dismay at their imminent demise.
The music is the first thing which the player would hear upon starting the game, thanks to a number of splash intros which cannot be skipped.
One would have thought that with so much homage to 1990s mecha anime, the music of Galak-Z would be an homage to those days too, but it is not always so. The music for the cutscenes does fit the typical campiness of mecha anime, but most of the music is electronica, specifically of the indie kind. With the composer Andrew Rohrmann having a name handle like “scntfc”, this should not be a surprise.
Perhaps the most notable element of the electronica music which plays during missions is the near-seamless but noticeable change of tracks that happen when the player has accomplished the mission objective. The tracks become more triumphant-sounding, though this masks the challenge of getting through the additional enemies that appear after the player has secured the objective.
Most of the sound effects in the game occur during missions, especially in battle. There is the distinct noise of the Galak-Z’s thrusters, the different sound clips for different weapons-fire and of course the booms of gratifying explosions. All of these occur in the ‘space’ of Galak-Z’s fiction, which like so many other representations of ‘space’ in video games, transmit sounds. Most of them will not seem particularly noteworthy to a player that has already experienced plenty of games with space settings.
An example of sounds which are noteworthy is the audio for the transformation of the Galak-Z. it is noticeable for being an alteration of the noises which are used for the transformation of the robots in the late 1980s Transformers series.
Another notable sound effect is that of the pinging emitted by nearby loot containers. They are often tucked away in nooks and crannies which are out of sight when the pings are heard, so the sounds are a cue to open the auto-map.
Considering that 17-bit’s Skulls of the Shogun had ‘voice-acting’ that is nothing more than a mixe of Japanese-sounding gibberish and illegible utterances, it is pleasing that the characters in Galak-Z have actual voice-overs.
Interestingly, 17-bit has managed to rope in some experienced people, albeit ones who did not have many high-profile leading roles. For example, Beam is voiced by Sarah Elmaleh, whose portfolio includes “additional voices” in popular games like Uncharted 4 and voice-overs for more prominent characters in lesser-known indie titles like Read-Only Memories. Meanwhile, A-Tak is voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, which is perhaps fitting as he has voiced high-energy characters before.
If there is an issue with the voice-acting, it is that the Imperials sound human. Considering that they see themselves as not human, it is odd that they still speak the same language as used by whom they deem inferior. Of course, this is not the first time that space sci-fi stories have non-humans inexplicably speaking in English.
The game’s setting and premise are already homages to mecha anime and manga. Yet, there are other references that are just as overt, or subtler to various degrees. Some examples have been mentioned here already, such as references to Guacamelee! and Transformers.
There are also references to 17-bit’s earlier game, Skulls of the Shogun: the appearance and name of one of the characters are already give-aways.
CONSIDERABLE MEMORY USAGE:
It should be pointed out here that for a game with its visual designs and gameplay, Galak-Z uses a lot of memory when missions are being played, likely to keep track of (or extrapolate) the drifting of meteorites and the movement of enemy patrols in real-time. For computers which are just above the minimum memory requirements, temporary freezes can sometimes occur, especially if the player has not been managing the use of resources on his/her computer.
Galak-Z has some good ideas, such as the designs for the eponymous mecha-fighter, the enemies and the environments that they fight in. They are also implemented and utilized quite well in the combat-oriented gameplay. Yet, the game perhaps could have benefited from having more of the attention-to-detail that Skulls of the Shogun had for its pacing and story-writing. (Unfortunately, this would be a suggestion that is roundly ignored when the DLC for the game, The Void, was introduced.)