One of the most stressful elements of reviewing a game is running into a section that you simply cannot beat. You bang your head against the same brick wall over and over again, nervously aware that you're on deadline. That's me and Galak-Z right now.
Since Monday, I've probably made about a dozen runs at Season 2 - Galak-Z's first real difficulty spike. I made it my mission to beat it before the end of my stream yesterday. You can see how well that went below.
In Galak-Z, you play as a lone pilot battling imperials, raiders, and bug monsters. By its nature, it's a test of survival. To advance to the next season, you have to make it through five missions without dying. Once you get past Season 1, those five missions become a grueling marathon that can end in an instant if you make a mistake or you're simply unlucky.
One side-effect of this marathon is a natural rise in tension. Big encounters are often terribly nerve-wracking, especially if you've lost some hull points. Additional health and missiles have to be purchased or scrounged on the battlefield, so resources are at a premium. As you near the end of a season, there's a decent chance that you will be just barely clinging to life, your missiles nearly gone.
Sometimes you will find yourself on a really good run where missiles and upgrades are plentiful, which has the perverse effect of ratcheting the tension up even higher. The last thing you want to do in such instances is squander all of your good fortune. But if you're like me, mental fatigue or carelessness will eventually cause you to make a mistake, and you'll lose everything in one ill-timed swipe from a Sentinel - mobile armors wielding terrifying energy swords. Incidentally, that's what happened to me last night - I tried to sneak out of a big battle by hitting the warp point and I wound up getting nuked by two massive energy shots from nearby Sentinels. That's how quickly it can all end in Galak-Z.
To its credit, Galak-Z does more than most pseudo-roguelikes to soften the blow. There are "Crash Coins" to be found that can be redeemed on your next run for scrap so that you can buy some early upgrades. If you find five of them, you can even purchase a continue, though with the caveat that you have to find your recovery crate to regain your powers - a very Dark Souls-like touch. Crash Coins are actually relatively plentiful, so there's a good chance that you'll have enough for at least one continue if you make it all the way to the fifth "episode" of a particular season.
That said, while Galak-Z does its best to mitigate the frustration of losing your progress, there are still certain factors beyond its control. In order to keep runs from getting too repetitive, dungeons are randomized so that you theoretically have a new experience each time. It's an approach that makes a lot of sense for Galak-Z given its marathon-like structure and the fact that 17-Bit is a small studio that doesn't have the resources to painstakingly handcraft each level. The downside is that the encounters can't easily be balanced, so you will occasionally run into situations where you will run into a terrifying number of powerful enemies. Run into enough of those instances and you will invariably be so worn down that you spend all of your scrap on more missiles and health, neglecting necessary upgrades for the final boss battle. Or you'll just die and have to start over.
I'm not going to deny that I've been frustrated at times with Galak-Z, especially with each run taking up to 45 minutes. But as in the best games, I find that I continually go back for more, convinced that I'm about to embark on the run that will finally get me over the hump and into the elusive Season 3. I've been getting a little further each time, going from regularly dying on 2-2 to making it all the way to boss. Given a little more time, I think I'll be able to make it to the next season.
But alas, I'm supposed to be reviewing Galak-Z, so I don't really have all the time in the world with this game. I'm going to have to make that magical run sooner rather than later. Until then, know that Galak-Z is a unique shooter brimming with personality and interesting challenges. I'm having a blast with it.
But yeah, it's really kicking my ass.