The power of the indie. Let it be said that we truly sit at a point in time when indies can embarrass the big players. 17-BIT have more than proved this along with their brethren.
Take an almost 16 bit SHMUP genre, mix in some Saturday morning cartoons, sprinkle with a dusting of classic manga, and blend with a 2015 open-world, procedural, rogue-like twist. This is the power of the indie. We don’t need to conform to any set genre. Let’s rip up that game design manual and mould something that we want to play, not what the money men tell us what sells. Fair play to 17-BIT and for Sony for embracing the indie culture and allowing these small teams to give us PlayStation gamers a chance at what would have normally been hidden away on some dusty PC. If you build it, they will play it!
Awww, my PS Vita, the gem in my arsenal of gaming weapons. A console I’ll freely admit to buying for what I was seeing, the rise of the indie. I saw not only an avenue to become a Vita gamer for some of the machine’s classic and signature games but, more so, all these lovely pixelly (in some cases) games. These were games that had a freshness to them, games that reminded me of my gaming beginnings. I’m looking at you, Woah Dave! For me, my Vita sits in that little slot that allows me a bit of casual PS gaming, along with supporting real grass roots game developers, and it fits nice into the whole PS4 ecosystem too. As my 64GB card slowly edges towards capacity, I was really looking forward to Galak-Z, only to be served that poop sandwich … the Vita version was cancelled, but on the bright side, the game was suddenly out on PS4 within the week! WAAAAA!
If I may, let me quickly explain how my love of all things indie has changed, not in a negative way, but how I’m more than happy to include my PS4 in this rise of the indie. I used to say to myself, indie games – Vita or Full Fat games – PS4. This was until I had a similar kick in the pods (albeit not quite the same as Galak-Z being cancelled) with the delay we would see with Axiom Verge … yup still no Vita version, and as days became weeks, weeks became months, I thought to myself…
‘Stop being a plonker.’
‘You love indie games!’
‘Why difference does it make? Vita, PS4, PS4, Vita.’
‘It’s the GAME that’s important.’
After this talking to I’d given myself, the flood gates opened….
Jamestown+ – Check!
Axiom Verge – Check!
Mercenary Kings – Check!
Nom Nom Galaxy – Check!
The Escapists – Check!
I couldn’t stop! I used to limit myself to Vita Cross-buy indie games, and that got me thinking. I like them as handheld games, what with their retro visuals, on the small screen, but I’ll happily have them on my PS4 too. I’m pleased I saw the light, as a dedicated indie gamer I couldn’t believe how I had such a narrow-minded view to indies on the big console. This is what I see all too often with some sectors of the gaming community – all it’s doing is damaging the Vita, and possibly even the PS4. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH INDIES ON THE PS4!
Ok, rant over, what I’m saying, it’s not the end of the world because 17-BIT took the decision to can the Vita version, and to be honest, after playing Galak-Z on the big screen, I can see why it was a good call. Technical issues aside, the level of detail in the game would surely have been lost on the Vita’s screen.
If anyone is even remotely a fan of classic Japanese Manga/Anime, you’ll have a big beaming smile on your chops when you fire up the game. Not only has the core of the game been meticulously designed, but all the little touches and trinkets are a joy to behold, from the in-cockpit cam in the bottom left, to the awesome light effects applied to what are essentially 2D elements that make it all look 2.5/3D. Engine glow, blaster feedback, it all feels properly grounded and that your cell-shaded ship is actually there. The constant radio chatter adds to the Manga cartoon feel (I kept having moments of Robotech/Macros Saga wash across me) when you converse with your mothership and its captain. Even enemies get some air time with their own in-cockpit cams. It’s all fantastic stuff and I can just imagine how it was built up layer by layer from the pre-release build, little moments of inspiration leading to this effect or that addition. One of my favourite front-end touches, which unfortunately will be lost on some of the younger gamers, is the pause/options menu. It’s like the 80’s and I’m in my bedroom with my first ever video recorder. Ah that blue screen and chunky ‘Cee-Fax’ white text. The 17-BIT wizards have even gone as far as making the title screen ‘glitch’ along the top as if you’ve pause a video. Like I say, attention to detail way beyond the basics.
Overall, the graphics and animations are exquisite, but what stands out for me are those explosions, proper cartoon inspired cell-shaded little masterpieces. I just can’t get enough of those smoke clouds that follow an explosion.
So the premise of the game has you piloting the last of the ATAK fighters across 5 ‘seasons’ just like a cartoon series from the 80’s. Each season has a collection of levels, and from what I can gather, apart from the fixed story missions, the missions that link each part are all randomly generated, so each time you play, you get a slightly different objective, which adds a modern touch to the SHMUP gameplay. Like all good go-anywhere games, Galak-Z offers a nice reward system of upgrades via collecting salvage and consumables throughout each mission to better equip your ship for later levels. Another nice mechanic is how the enemies don’t always pose a threat to you if there is another enemy in the vicinity. On one side there is the Empire, your mortal enemy who have wiped almost everyone out, and then there’s the indigenous alien bug life that will not only attack you, but if left will attack Empire ships too. This adds for a brilliant tactical approach to what would normally be a run and gun bullet hell game – IF it was your average SHMUP. Fortunately, Galak-Z isn’t.
So blasting through gorgeous backdrops, upgrading you fighter, collecting loot – surely a pretty much perfect game? Perhaps not quite. I’d like to point out for the purpose of the review, I have played it pre-patch and post-patch. Most of the framerate issues appear to be solved, although a few do still exist, but fortunately these are at a minimum now. My main gripe has to be with the controls. I have become better at them, but for the life of me I can’t see why (if they wanted to use Newtonian physics) they didn’t make this a twin-stick shooter. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve died trying to flee death by pushing AWAY from an enemy only to fly into it because of the reverse thrusters button. I’ll explain. You’re pushing towards an enemy to aim at it, but you know that if you want to back off, you need to hit reverse, but still push towards an enemy to aim. When the action was heating up and it was starting to go south, my instinct was to push AWAY from the enemy, but my brain was saying at the same time ‘Quick! Hit reverse to get away’. The problem with this is by pushing away you aim away, thus turning your back on the enemy. Then you’re hitting reverse because you would normally back off from an enemy, but as you are already facing away, you reverse thrust into that enemy, resulting in a quick death. Surely the simplest option here is having twin-stick shooting. The controls feel unnatural when you first play. Admittedly the more you play, the more you do get used to it. It’s just a shame it is something you have to overcome early in the game.
All in all Galak-Z shines and is without a doubt a perfectly presented indie game that is more than capable of sitting in your PS4’s HDD with all your retail games. Hats off to 17-BIT for creating a refreshing take on the classic SHMUP.
Northlander Rating – 8/10