In most free-to-play mobile action-RPGs, there’s an option to complete battles — i.e. the “action” part — automatically. That’s because your input doesn’t really matter. You win if you’ve levelled-up your characters enough. And if you haven’t, nothing you can do will save them.
GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile is a free-to-play mobile action-RPG with a difference. The difference is that it would be a great game even if it didn’t have any RPG mechanics whatsoever. The moment-to-moment aerial combat is as refined, challenging, slick, beautifully presented, and exciting as any pure arcade experience you can name.
Searching the GALAK-Z
Let’s start at the beginning. The single-player campaign in GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile consists of 100 missions across 17 sectors. These are strung together with a peppy, dialogue-driven storyline, though it’s easy to lose the thread of this since you spend a lot of time going back and replaying previously completed missions.
The gist is that you’re a plucky crew of humans and bots trying to take down the Baron’s imperial army.
Every time to go out on a mission you earn a currency called Salvage by destroying enemies. In most cases you’ll also be able to pick up a relic by defeating a boss.
Out of this world
Decrypting these relics gives you Salvage, Fragments, and Crash Coins. You use Salvage to repair your ships and buy ship and bot upgrades and consumable bolt-ons. Fragments go towards upgrades, and Crash Coins let you buy Bot Capsules and Bot Collection Slots, revive yourself if you die during a mission, expedite the relic decryption process, and more.
Then there are Bot Parts. You get these for dipping into GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile multiplayer, a fairly slim game mode in which you go up against an AI-controlled team assembled by another player. These bouts tend to take a few seconds, and aside from leaderboard bragging rights their only purpose is to give you resources for improving your bots.
Bots are an interesting feature of GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile. You come by these by buying them with virtual currency. To upgrade one you need to cannibalise another, and you never know what you’re going to get when you buy a Bot Capsule — i.e. Speed, Offense, Tank, or Resource class — so there’s a lucky dip element to the game. You use your bots to crew your ship.
Tanks for the memories
There’s more to the game’s impressive free-to-play RPG ecosystem, including the usual missions and daily rewards, but that covers the basics.
Now we can talk about the really outstanding part of GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile – the space combat.
There are two different craft you can take into battle: a mech, and a fighter. They work very differently.
The mech is a melee attacker, using a laser sword to hack at enemies nearby, as well as a special hookshot move that grabs distant enemies and brings them in. The mech has two shields: the general one relating to the whole structure, and another one that it holds out in front of it, like the shield a medieval knight might hold, but made of lasers.
Taking your shot
This shield disappears every time you attack, so you have to be circumspect about how to approach combat. Your general shield also disappears whenever you get shot, after which your health starts to go down, so it’s always wise to retreat when you’re vulnerable, and return to the fray when your shield recharges. Think Halo.
Your fighter, in contrast with your mech, is a nimble ranged attacker, firing volleys of missiles from afar. It has the same regenerating shield as the mech, but no other protection, so it relies more on ducking and bobbing.
And you’ll really need to be on top of your ducking and bobbing — including the neat little jumping juke move you pull off by swiping up on the accelerator button, and your indispensible reverse gear. The enemies in GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile know how to lead their shots, picking you out of the sky if you’re foolish enough to travel in the same direction for more than about a second.
RPG or shooter?
You need to become a skilled dogfighter, using the environment to help you. The cavern-like environments in which you’re fighting have spikes and lava pools and boxes of explosives and other hazards dotted around them, and you can use these to your advantage — or be caught out by them yourself.
It’s hard to convey just how challenging and tactically rich the combat in GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile is. Yes, you won’t get far without ploughing loot into upgrades. This is an RPG. But skill also plays a huge part, and after a godlike performance in a particularly tricky stage you can rightly pat yourself on the back for winning the day through sheer arcade mastery alone.
It helps that the game looks the part, with solid Anime-inspired visuals throughout, beautiful 2.5D animation, meaty explosions, booming sound effects, and an impressive musical score.
Action-RPGs in the age of free-to-play mechanics can feel a bit nerfed, skewed towards incentives and progress over gameplay. If you love mobile RPGs but miss the thrill of pure arcade action, you need to download GALAK-Z: Variant Mobile today on Google Play (and the App Store!).
An interesting blend of genres that is definitely worth a look – for fans of both hardcore and casual experiences
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