Since the beginning, Galak-Z creator Jake Kazdal has compared his game to Macross. But that has always begged the question of why the fighter can't transform into a mech, particularly given its roots in 1980s mecha. Well as it turns out, it can transform into a mech, adding a new and very interesting dimension to what was already looking like a very enjoyable roguelike/shoot 'em up.
The mech is revealed in a fashion befitting a traditional mecha anime. After successfully surviving his first mission, the hero is on his way back to base when he's abruptly ambushed by a massive enemy cruiser and a new wave of fighters. He turns to run, but it's looking bad and... say, that switch looks new. Well, there's no time like the present.
I compared the new mech to Macross simply because Kazdal is such a fan of the series, but the new mech also has a lot in common with the eponymous robot from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam - a series that appropriately derived much of its inspiration from the Shoji Kawamori classic. Wielding a massive beam saber in true Gundam fashion, it is much more of a brute than the small and nimble starfighter, able to carve up enemy fighters with ease. And if it ever gets into trouble, it can quickly transform and zip away, much like Macross's VF Valkyrie or Zeta Gundam's Wave Rider.
Galak-Z's mech resembles the Zeta Gundam in other ways as well. For instance, its secondary weapon is a grappling hook, bringing to mind Kamille's battle with Haman (which isn't on Youtube for some reason... feh). But its more similar to the Valkyrie in the way that it uses a pinpoint barrier-like energy shield to block enemy attacks. Being a true melee unit, it does not wield a gun or rifle of any kind, further differentiating it from the fighter.
Having spent some time with it, I can confidently say that it's a great addition. I was already intrigued by Galak-Z - its logo alone was enough to grab my attention from the moment it was announced - but the mech pretty much cinches it. The two forms add a lot to Galak-Z's overall strategy, allowing you to go toe-to-toe with bigger units in a way that a simple fighter wouldn't have permitted. And that's without talking about how cool it is to be able to grab an asteroid, a piece of space junk, or even another enemy and toss it at a pursuing foe, then quickly jet away as the starfighter.
Basically, it works. In fact, it works so well that I can't imagine Galak-Z without it.
Nearing the Finish Line
The build of Galak-Z that I got to play still had a little bit of polishing left; but as of this mech reveal, it's pretty much finished. It is slated to be released on August 4th, which is a little less than two weeks out from this article's publication.
It hasn't been an easy road for Kazdal and 17-bit. It's been more than two years since Galak-Z was first announced at Sony's pre-E3 2013 event; and while it's been shown at pretty much every event since, there's been no word on a release date until just recently. An artist and a gamer at heart, Kazdal is uncompromising about the quality of his games, and he's pushed his team hard to iron out the bugs and lock in a steady framerate, which hasn't always been easy. One casualty of that process seems to have been the Vita version, which was canceled as Galak-Z's release date was announced.
The version I played at 17-bit's Kyoto studio was a far cry from the occasionally sluggish, rough-edged shooter of year's past. The controls are much tighter now - crucial for slipping around enemies and navigating tight spaces - and the framerate is locked in at just north of 30 frames per second. It has a polish and artistic appeal now that was only hinted at in previous builds.
Beyond its technical merits, I'm also intrigued by what it brings to the admittedly over-saturated roguelike genre. It's a highly technical and extremely difficult shooter with a very small margin for error, but its action is much more elegant than the average indie roguelike; and once you get the hang of it, it's quite amazing what you can pull off. Death is inevitable though, and as in any roguelike, quite permanent (the Game Over screen is a shattered helmet floating eerily through space in a shot reminiscent of Gundam SEED). Galak-Z is a little more lenient than most roguelikes, though, offering 10-12 "Crash Coins" that can be used to retain your progress, though you'll have to work your way back to a capsule containing your equipment as a basic fighter first.
A common knock on roguelikes and other procedurally games is that they lack the intricacy of a more constructed experience, with levels that often feel like a series of interlocking parts jammed together with little rhyme or reason. In comparison to other roguelikes, though, Galak-Z has a much more intricate story, complete with cutscenes that play between chapters and multiple factions. It offers plenty of incentive to suck it up and try to keep going even if you end up losing all of your equipment, though it's a double-edge sword in its own way. It can frustrating as hell to lose your progress when you really just want to see what happens next in the story.
As I said, though, the mech completes Galak-Z. It opens up a large number of tactical possibilities in combat, and its defensive nature dramatically increases its survivability in comparison to the fighter. In a game this tough, any little bit helps, and the mech helps a lot.
With only a week and a half to go until launch, Galak-Z is looking like one of the best indies to come out of this summer, and a great console exclusive for Sony (it will also be coming out on PC at a later date). It's been a long road to get to this point, but it appears that 17-bit's patience and persistence is about to pay off.