Playing with Power (Ballads)
You know how sometimes you play a demo and think that you know what the game’s going to be about, only to end up completely wrong when you play the full game? It’s always kind of a surreal feeling, if you ask me. …It’s also not something that happened with Gal Metal. Although I only had a brief amount of time with the game at E3, the impression that it left on me back then was almost the exact same one that the full game ended up leaving on me all these months later. Hey, at least it’s got consistency going for it!
But what are those impressions exactly? That’s the important question. And it’s one with a simple answer. I thought, and still think, that the game is quirky, funny, unique, and is trying its best to carve its own niche within the rhythm game genre. My opinion hasn’t remained exactly the same, though. But, unfortunately, the change isn’t one for the better. While I still feel positively toward the same aspects of the game that I did back then, I couldn’t help but feel that Gal Metal was missing a certain “oomph” after finally getting to try out the full version. And, while said “lacking oomph” isn’t enough to make the game fall flat, it does make this metal journey a little more middling than I would have liked.
Jammin’ ‘Cross the Galaxy
Despite being a rhythm game, Gal Metal ends up having quite the narrative adventure attached to it. The story begins with a nameless male protagonist finding himself being abducted by a race of octopus-like aliens known as the Octoids– alongside a girl named Rinko Hoshino (who just so happens to be the president of her metal band, the Kichijoji Metal Girls). The two are informed that the Octoids have been plagued by the sounds (those sounds being metal music) from a mysterious record that they found after intercepting the space probe Voyager, and that they’ll be giving humanity one chance to defend itself being destroyed, and then sent back to earth fused together so that the male protagonist has control over Rinko’s body, with the actual Rinko being trapped inside her own brain – unable to do anything but communicate with her body’s new puppet master.
Things only get weirder from there. After talking to her friends – and fellow KMG bandmates – about the situation (except for the whole fusion thing). Although admittedly confused and sill not entirely sure whether or not this so-called invasion is actually happening, the gang decides to get together and attempt to save the world in the only way that they know how; by rocking (“metaling”?) their hearts out.
So, I’m not sure that this was supposed to happen, but, if I’m being honest, I think that Gal Metal’s story ended up being my favorite part of the entire game. It wasn’t just because of the story itself, though. Gal Metal’s story is a packaged deal of quirky story and comic book-like presentation which, at least in my opinion, was pulled off incredibly well. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort was put into making sure that this game had a fun narrative that was both comically entertaining and engaging – so much so that it kind of ends up stealing the show from the actual gameplay.
Getting in Tune
Gal Metal has other surprises in store for its players as well. As it turns out, this isn’t just a rhythm game. It’s also apparently a visual novel as well. Before jumping into your first actual jam session against the dreaded tentacle menace, Gal Metal first gives players a day or two to prepare. And by prepare, I mean doing things like working part-time in a convenience store, playing games with your friends at an arcade, and hanging out at a construction site by yourself in the middle of the day.
“But what does any of that do?” you might be asking. They increase your stats, duh! What, you’ve never heard of a rhythm game with stats before? Sure you have; and now you’re hearing about another one! Gal Metal has five key character stats for players to pay attention to, each of which do things like help you nab more points for staying on tempo, or recover quickly from alien attacks. Stats end up playing a unique role in a game like this. Unlike with RPGs, stats aren’t vital for success – in fact, the game even tells you that, if you’re good enough, you can get through everything without improving anything at all (which is kind of neat if you ask me). Still, it’s nice that the game offers players a chance to gain a little edge over the competition if need be (which, considering how easy this game is, you probably won’t).
Gal Metal’s decision to include such a heavy emphasis on character-building ultimately sets the game up as being a dividing force. I personally enjoy VNs, and I have a strong feeling that most people playing this game will have a similar opinion. In that right, this charming, well-implemented, and somewhat ironic focus that this musical game puts into so many things that aren’t related to actually making music will most likely come off as endearing. For those looking for something more along the lines of Rock Band or Guitar Hero (yeesh, haven’t heard those names in a while), however, might not see this VN shtick as anything more than unnecessary fluff.
Some of you out there might be wondering why, in a review about a rhythm game, I’ve written about everything but the actual rhythm game mechanics themselves. Simple; it’s because Gal Metal, despite what it may convey, is actually not as heavily focused on music-making as it tries to convey. And, well, it kind of shows when it comes down to actually playing though this game’s disappointingly small number of tracks.
Mechanically speaking, what Gal Metal is trying to do is pretty neat. Gameplay (well, non-VN gameplay) centers around the player, as the drummer of the KMG, using the Joy-Cons as drumsticks in order to drum out some mighty metal tunes. Drumming, of course, is more than just simply keeping the beat, however. As the drummer, it’s up to you to make the beat their own. And here’s the kicker; you can do it however you’d like. That’s right, there are no notes to follow whatsoever. So long as you’re conscious of the tempo, how you play is up to you.
Unfortunately, this concept – while totally cool and unique – isn’t put into practice as well as I had hoped. I’m not a “drummer” by any means, but I do know how to play the drums. I’m typically good at keeping a beat, and can get creative with my rhythms if need be. You would think that that would be great for a game like this. I certainly did – but it isn’t. Gal Metal wants you to be creative, but it doesn’t know every single rhythm out there. If you want to seriously rack up points, you have to stick to playig the rhythms that the game knows. And, because the game offers no on-screen instructions during gameplay, that means that you have to memorize them.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend a bunch of time memorizing the list of rhythms the game deems acceptable. If Gal Metal wants me to be creative, then let me be creative. I started out trying to be as creative as I could, by belting out whatever flashy rhythms that I could come up with – but they almost never nabbed me anything above a mediocre 50 points each. So, I ended up sticking to the basic rhythms that the game teaches you at the beginning of the game for about half of the songs – only daring to learn a few new ones here or there. Now, I don’t think that this would have been a big deal had I lacked the ability to keep tempo. Those rhythms are there to teach you the ropes, and that’s great. I really believe that. But for people who already know those things – people who want to jam in their own way – Gal Metal’s limitations end up being disheartening. And that’s somewhat ironic considering that this game is championing the spirit of metal.
Digital Drumming Dilemmas
There’s also the matter of the Joy-Cons themselves. While Gal Metal can be played in several different ways, the most unique of the bunch is its “Drummer Mode” – a mode in which the notes don’t sound until you swing the Joy-Con all the way down and start to bring it back up. Credit where it’s due; this is a pretty cool attempt at something new. I appreciate that this game is trying to think outside of the box. But there are a few problems with this. First, real drums give physical feedback. If you’re playing an actual drum, your stick bounces back up without you needing to bring your wrist back up manually. Now, to be fair, there have been plenty of other games without that that have worked fine without any kind of physical feedback.. Heck, people can even air drum at perfect tempos. So if this was the only problem, then I could overlook it pretty easily.
Sadly, lack of physical feedback isn’t the only thing going on here. I also ended up having some very consistent issues with responsiveness. With Drummer Mode, there were times where the notes wouldn’t sound until the Joy-Cons were being brought back up (which isn’t how a real drum works). Sometimes they wouldn’t even sound at all. I tried everything that I could to make sure this wasn’t something on my end. First, I tried messing with the sensitivity – no dice. Then, I tried playing in “Noodle Mode” (where the noise sounds as soon as you swing the Joy-Con) – I didn’t have a whole lot of luck there, either. I even tried re-positioning the Switch itself. But, no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get an immediate enough response from my swings – a very bad problem to have when playing a game about drumming.
Mighty, Mighty Metal?
When all’s said and done, Gal Metal makes a pretty darn good visual novel. Unfortunately, it isn’t an actual visual novel. It’s a rhythm game. And, as a rhythm game, it’s only okay. While everything not related to keeping the beat is a blast – and surprisingly in-depth – the actual music making portions of the game leave something to be desired. It’s definitely still a game worth checking out if you’re into things like aliens, crazy stories, or stat-building VNs (sans the romance options, of course), and the rhythm sections might be fun if you’re just getting into drumming basics, but those looking for a musical challenge might not find much satisfaction here.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Marvelous, XSEED Games; Developer: DMM Games; Players: 1 ; Released: October 29, 2018; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Gal Metal given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.