The Indie Megabooth at this year’s PAX was a writhing sea of cow eyed bodies, a frothy foam of aggressive BO and slow shuffles, staring at all the exciting new indie titles on display. It was almost impossible to make it through the area without running into a roadblock of bodies. While most of the booths were crowded constantly during PAX, 17-BIT’s booth always had a line of people waiting to get their hands on Galak-Z: The Dimensional. The long lines and huge swath of people crowding the booth was for a very good reason, Galak-Z is wildly exciting. 17-BIT had two chapters for the demo, but mainly people checking out the demo played the first chapter, which introduced the mechanics, controls and introductory story.
Galak-Z starts with a female member of HQ looking for any survivors after a calamity. She only is able to find one survivor. A lone pilot lost in the depths of space with a half functioning ship. The lady from HQ does her best to help the pilot restart the ship’s systems. After some troubleshooting the ship is up and running.
Now the pilot must navigate an unknown area to find any replacement parts, other survivors and either avoid or destroy enemy ships. As he scavenges for parts, shield energy and missiles, he discovers patrolling ships that he must contend with. Moving through the area, he finds various factions of ships, those intelligent and those not so intelligent that attack anything in sight.
Eventually, he finds another surviving ship. Before he can help the ship, an enemy mech clips it in half. Now he must destroy this dangerous enemy as the area begins to fill with lava. After a protracted battle where the lava slowly flows toward the protagonist, he defeats the enemy and has to outrun the lava lest he gets caught in it. As his ship rushes to flee the lava, he has to fight or flee enemy patrols as he tries to reach his escape route. Luckily enough, he gets clear of the lava and readies for his journey ending the demo.
As with most 2D space shooters, there is an acclimation period needed to get used to the controls. Mainly it is with movement, it is a bit weird at first because there is a want to use the analog sticks to move in a direction, but that only is for aiming. Galak-Z uses forward and reverse thrusters (and a boost function) for movement that takes some getting used to how to coordinate those controls with restraining the urge to use the analog sticks to move. However, once the player gets used to them, the controls are smooth (the desire for it to function like a twin stick shooter is high though). Shooting is pretty natural, but the way missiles function in the game is pretty awesome. When engaging missiles a large scan wave goes out in front of the ship and tags enemies within its range, as long as the player keeps holding the button down it will tag more ships. So when the player lets go it will fire off missiles at all tag ships (consequently using up available missile reserves). While there is an initial learning curve to the controls, players will be gunning and moving like it is second nature fairly quickly.
Galak-Z nicely replicates the old school shooter feel, but adds plenty of depth and strategy with the enemy AI. There are enemy factions in the game that have different temperaments and allegiances meaning certain ones will attack anything and everything, while others may only target the player or certain other factions. So, players can smartly trick enemies into fighting it out while they slip past them. Enemy AI will also call for back-up and seek out the player. There is always the option of gunning down all the ships, of course, but it adds a bit more excitement to exploit the AI.
The environment seems to play a big part in combat because during the boss fight, players can run and gun down the boss as usual. Or they can utilize the unique environmental event that occurs during the fight, which involves lava falling slowly filling the area. So, the player can rush quickly and deeply into the lava causing the boss to follow them and then fly out real fast. Since the boss moves slowly the lava will continue to fall and it will be trapped in it taking damage while the player fires missiles and bullets at it. This allows the player to take it out easily and allows them to escape quicker. Additionally, going through the area, there were large sacks full of corrosive spores that when shot attached to a ship and damaged it. So, the player could shoot them then thrust through the cloud of spores avoiding them but leading enemy ships into a spore trap. Both the AI and the environment add a good amount of depth to the gameplay.
Gameplay is the main draw of Galak-Z and it has an extremely promising starting point to build upon moving toward its 2014 release. The game takes it inspiration heavily from 70s and 80s anime with Robotron vibes. It looks like an unreleased 80s space anime. The strong visual style is present from the title screen and the game is gorgeous. The demo had an amazing soundtrack; hopefully the full game is full of similar infectious tunes. It takes a more serious approach than Skulls of the Shogun, but similarly has a distinct personality.
17-BIT is eyeing a summer 2014 release for Galak-Z: The Dimensional, but likely it will release when it is ready. It will be well worth the wait.