I recently stepped back into the console world with a purchase of a Playstation 4. Why I chose going back to Sony after years with my Xbox is a topic for another article, but safe to say I’m so far very happy with my purchase and the not-required-but-required PSN membership. One reason I’m happy is they’re now giving out free games to gold members, something that didn’t exist last time I was playing regularly.
I was happy to see that one of the free games for March was Galak-Z, a game I had seen previewed and was interested in playing. Part shmup, part exploration…it looked great but also very familiar. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I played it.
Solar Jetman was one of the few NES games I purchased new back in the day. I’ve always been a fan of spaceship/sci-fi games and since Solar Jetman was just that, I bought it. I’m sure it was on sale but nonetheless, Solar Jetman was a game I feel like I “discovered” since I had never read about it or seen it in a magazine before. Remember, this was a time when box art and screen shots sold games.
Solar Jetman wasn’t an action-packed game. In fact, it was pretty boring and somewhat frustrating. In Solar Jetman, you were trying to find pieces of an ancient spaceship. You had to travel to each planet and explore caves looking for these pieces. Along the way you upgrade your ship to help you explore and survive…and surviving wasn’t easy. Naturally, you had bad guys to worry about, but you also had to worry about fuel consumption and shields and several other stats to keep you on edge.
Solar Jetman’s planets also presented unique challenges because each one had a different gravity level so flying was a challenge on each one. Controlling your spaceship was also very different than other games because it acted like “real” space in that your spaceship would never stop moving until you fired your jets…you know, inertia. It didn’t play like Gradius or any of the other spaceship games I loved. It was different and difficult. So actual gameplay might have been infuriating but Solar Jetman had another side effect that I loved.
This was the era before randomly generated everything, so every planet in Solar Jetman was the same every time you played. Being the little nerd that I was, I drew my own maps on graph paper and then used them to plan my attack between deaths. I’d outline the contour of every cave and denote where all the power-ups were located. I color coded certain areas as “more dangerous” than others. I think doing all that stuff was probably more fun than the actual game…I actually remember having fun doing that…I don’t remember any specific moments from the game itself.
Solar Jetman wasn’t a popular game but it was one I felt proud about when I finally finished it. Everyone can say they’ve beaten Super Mario or Contra, but how many people can say they’ve completed Solar Jetman? Anyway…I started to play Galak-Z and it all came rushing back to me.
Galak-Z is basically the Solar Jetman I always wanted as a kid. You still have some of the most difficult controls you’ll ever use, but there’s a lot more shooting and action. You can choose to sneak past enemy ships or take them on. Each level has a specific mission but you’ll need to collect money to purchase upgrades so you can stay afloat. And it wouldn’t be a modern game if the levels weren’t randomly generated so unfortunately mapping really isn’t needed this time around. Oh well.
Galak-Z is also very stylish, presented in a manga/anmie style that reminds you of Voltron or Battletech. There’s just enough story and characters to give you motivation but it’s not so deep that you get bored or have to take notes. I call that a perfect balance.
And like Solar Jetman, Galak-Z is pretty challenging. Controls aside, you have to be very mindful of what you spend and what you upgrade. I very quickly found myself starting levels with only one health bar and not enough cash to buy more. Of course, most of my deaths I will certainly attribute to the maddening controls and dealing with inertia.
My only point of contention with Galak-Z is that you can’t remap your controls. I understand how to control my ship and what I need to do in-game, but for some reason the physical controls just don’t match up to my brain. If I could remap some buttons it would make a world of different. And maybe I just need a bigger TV, but everything in the game is so small I often find it hard to see exactly what’s going on or which direction my ship is facing. Or maybe I just need thicker glasses…sheesh
Given Galak-Z was free with my PSN subscription, I can’t complain one bit. However, the game is only $20 without the subscription and you can also play on Steam, so if you’re looking for something a little different, it’s worth the purchase. It’s certainly shaping up to be one of those games I feel pride in when I complete it. That’s something you don’t get much these days because games are either endless or just pander to in-the-moment emotions and nothing more.
I’ve found Galak-Z very refreshing and that’s exactly what I was looking for in coming back to Sony.