Galak-Z: The Dimensional is an interesting beast. The aesthetics of the game, the art style, the anime graphics and cut-scenes all seem to lend themselves to a casual 2D shooting game. But that's not what it turns out to be once you start playing it. Behind all the quirky one-liners and neon-filled environments and shootouts, Galak-Z is a deep and challenging shooter. There's no brute force route to success. You'll have to gain a thorough understanding of the environment, the physics, the limitations of your vehicle and the abilities of your enemies. Even then, you're not guaranteed success. Throughout its run, Galak-Z keeps ramping up the difficulty in a way that feels organic, challenging and ultimately, extremely satisfying.
Galak-Z wears its anime inspirations on its sleeve. The plot itself is structured as a series of anime episodes, divided into 'seasons' which are basically acts of the story. You take control of a daring pilot called A-Tak, who's now making his way through the strange infinities of outer space after narrowly escaping from a battle with the antagonistic Imperial army. You'll have to get through randomly-generated levels, each of which acts like an episode within the season of the story. Once you've finished a set of five episodes, a new season is unlocked for you to play through. Each of the seasons have their own specific set of challenges, within which the procedurally generated levels manage to keep things fresh.
There's another game genre where Galak-Z takes some inspiration from - the roguelike. If you die within a season, you'll have to replay all of the episodes in that season from the beginning. Considering that this is an extremely challenging game, it's fair to say that you'll be dying (and replaying seasons) a lot of times. What's more, death means that your ship loses all of the upgrades that you've painstakingly added to your ship. Again, you could have the best upgrades (a max upgraded shield and all of the other goodies) and still crash and burn during an episode. It's a tough job being a pilot in the great beyond.
Credit has to go to developers 17-bit for creating an environment wherein you feel the impact of each of your deaths. Each death is an opportunity to learn something about your own play style and the way you are supposed to approach a particular episode. The onscreen happenings might be quirky and funny, but there's a serious mechanic system at work behind the scenes. You collect Crash Coins as you continue your journey, and these persist between play-throughs. As a result, you'll be able to go into new seasons with some money already in the bank. You also find Blueprints, which unlock certain items permanently in the shop. You might end up dying during a season, but at least the upgrades that you fought tooth and nail for will still be available for you to buy from the outset, provided you have enough money saved up.
Each fight in Galak-Z has to be carefully considered. Before you dive into a crazy dogfight, you often have the option to take cover behind a rock and consider briefly the kind of enemies you'll be going up against and what you might need to do. Enemies have different ranks which are indicated by the colors on their ships. Once you've taken stock of the situation, you can make your way into the fight, dodging enemies and corralling them into environmental obstacles such as electrical connections and rocks. Or you could just choose to find your way around the current part of the map and avoid fighting completely. Galak-Z gives you the freedom to choose your own style of combat. Each episode will have you pondering these questions -- should you explore a little and try to find some goodies but risk running into enemies, or should you just stick to the safe path and complete the mission?
With all of this complexity in combat, it's heartening to see how well Galak-Z's physics and control system actually works. Understanding how to maneuver your ship will help you more in actual combat than any of your upgrades will. You can strafe, dodge and even thrust, with the graphics system showing just enough depth to make you understand that there's a vertical dimension to the fights that are happening on screen. If that wasn't enough, you can morph your ship into a hulking mech, armed with a blade and a grappling hook for situations where you have to get up close and personal with your enemies.
There's a steep learning curve to get through before you begin to enjoy all that Galak-Z has to offer. The movement itself will feel completely foreign and unwieldy when you first start playing. You have to persevere until you get to the point where you're simply reacting to situations naturally. You have to use the left stick for both movement and aiming, while the circle and square buttons dodge and fire. Make no mistake about it - you'll have to put a lot of hours into the game to get a hang of the control system.
Galak-Z makes you think even when you're in the middle of a frenetic battle, and that is a testament to the fantastic mechanics of the game. You'll die a lot, but you'll learn from every mistake and become better equipped to deal with future challenges. The game continues to provide a satisfactory level of challenge all the way till the credits roll. If you can stick with the game during the learning phase, there's a ton of enjoyment to be gained out of this one.