To thine own Elf be true
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is the first part in a planned duo of platformers developed and released by Minor Key Games, known for their work on similar retro-themed titles such as You Have To Win The Game. Anybody familiar with their work will know what to expect: CRT monitor-style graphics and tight, old-school gameplay. And I’m very pleased to say that Gunmetal Arcadia Zero delivers the goods as expected, with surplus.
You’re placed in the role of a young elf named Vireo, whose coming-of-age trials form the backbone of the story. He is a resident of Arcadia, a city populated by elves like himself, along with other fantastic creatures. Arcadian society seems to be divided roughly into two factions: the warrior class called the Gunmetal Vanguard and the scholarly class known as the Seekers of Arcadia. The two don’t seem to get on too well, but animosity quickly takes a backseat when the city is under threat from a dark force known as the Unmade. Vireo joins up with a couple of his elven kin, becomes a member of either the Vanguard or the Seekers, and pledges to fight the threat to Arcadia. Though the plot merely serves as a means to an end, as is the case with many platformers of the era this game emulates, I found myself genuinely interested in the lore and would love to see it expanded upon in the upcoming second title.
The game plays like a typical platformer from the early NES era, and the most obvious influence is The Legend Of Zelda 2. It’s a somewhat slower-paced sidescroller with action RPG elements and a very slight Castlevania 2 feel and mindset. You’ll be able to purchase weapons and upgrades from vendors haphazardly placed across the maps, and there are several options available with their assorted strengths and weaknesses. There are also secondary weapons scattered throughout, and while they’re very useful in tricky situations, only one such type may be equipped at a time and they require ammo to function. Our hero can smash open statues, pots, torches, and other objects in the world to acquire more ammo or coins, the latter of which is used to purchase upgrades. I’ll offer up a helpful hint: make sure you buy a purse as soon as possible, because otherwise your coin count will cap at 99 and any further coins you collect will go to waste. Other upgrades help Vireo to move better and attack in different ways, and all of them improve gameplay tremendously.
There’s a fair amount of exploring to do, with an abundance of secret areas. Sometimes walls need to cleared with your weapon, other times they need to be bombed, but either way there’s plenty of hidden goodies to find. A tantalizing feature is the inclusion of locked doors which require a onetime-use key. These are purchasable, and it’s prudent to always have at least one in your inventory, as locked doors tend to hide roomfuls of bonuses. It all plays extremely well, offering plenty in the way of rewards for diligent players and slowly ramping up the difficult at a very comfortable pace. The controls are spot-on, the action is just satisfying, and the music… oh man, the music is an awesome assemblage of chip tune love.
As for the visuals. Well. The developers are not the greatest artists around, but for what this game sets out to do, their talents work well. It’s low-density pixel art straight out of the NES, though the palette is noticeably broader and more vibrant. Sometimes, it’s hard to make out what exactly enemies and objects are supposed to be, but that was also true on Nintendo’s venerable 8-bit system and it serves as part of the charm.
One of the main attractions is the aforementioned CRT monitor emulation, which really helps to cement the feeling that you’re playing some lost computer classic on its native hardware. It comes with motion blur, over-saturated colors, and even a border which casts a faint reflection. The emulation offers a high degree of customization, with various presets that offer up different levels of intensity. If, however, it’s not really your thing, you can opt to turn it off entirely and enjoy the pixels completely unfiltered.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is a love letter to fans of The Legend Of Zelda 2 on the NES. It truly pushes retro sensibilities to their limits with its pixel art, chip music, and CRT monitor emulation, but behind the low-tech presentation lies a genuinely charming game that gets what made these old titles so great. If you’re any sort of fan of Zelda, platformers, and retro gaming, then you owe it to yourself to play through this excellent gift. Explore its Steam page here to acquire a copy of your very own.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Minor Key Games ; Developer: Minor Key Games ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 6 May, 2016.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review copy of Gunmetal Arcadia Zero given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.