METALLIC CHILD Review: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?
When I saw the style of METALLIC CHILD, I knew that it was my sort of game. It’s a colorful, chibi rogue-like full of destructive robots. Who’s to stop them? None other than Rona! An adorable young android all alone (other than her annoying helper bot), who is unknowingly harboring some dangerous secrets. While I was eager to play the Switch version of the game, I really didn’t know what to expect. And though I ended my time reviewing the game with mostly positive impressions, METALLIC CHILD was ultimately held back by some avoidable design choices.
Her Name Was Rona, She Was a Show Girl
Although it took a while for me to really notice, METALLIC CHILD is clearly inspired by Mega Man. The story begins when the orbiting Life Stream station’s robots suddenly go rogue. The only one unaffected is Rona, who finds herself nearly demolished by their forces. She’s not made for battle, and the poor droid gets so damaged she fears it’s all over. That is until you come along. As the player, you control a nameless human that somehow discovers Rona’s plight, despite being situated on Earth. Rona’s damage means she can’t control her motor functions anymore. But that’s okay. Years of gaming have prepared you for this moment! You’ll pilot Rona yourself. Jokes aside, it’s an interesting concept that works well with the title.
With you in the driver’s seat, Rona has a chance to save the day. Cause not only did the other robots go rogue, but they’re also planning an extinction-level event for Earth. Their plan is simple. Crash the Life Stream station into the planet, annihilating the majority of life on it. Rona’s only choice is to find her fellow Metallic Children, defeat them, and use their Cores to power the Life Station, allowing it to avoid the planetary extinction. Unfortunately, they’re not gonna go down without a fight, and despite Rona’s best efforts, her fellow Children are dead set against helping someone that’s working with humans on Earth.
An Editor in Distress
Though the plot is interesting and gets gradually revealed chapter by chapter, it’s held back by the weakest part of METALLIC CHILD – the localization. While overall, it’s easy to parse what’s happening, there’s some very clunky and downright awkward grammar here. Perhaps most egregious is when the game repeatedly refers to a group of Metallic Children as “Metallic Childs.” Every time I saw this, my inner editor started screaming, and it hurt my immersion in the world more than a little. That said, I still found Rona cute and Pan annoying. So I suppose it wasn’t all bad. I just fervently wish CREST or Studio HG had invested in a smoother translation.
One quick plot detail that really helped me realize the Mega Man connection is Rona’s creator, Dr. Irene. Despite being shown as a loving and kindhearted woman in flashbacks, she’s now inexplicably at the head of the robot rebellion. It’s unclear initially if this was a purposeful move on her part, or if something more sinister is going on. Regardless, once I became aware of this information, I started to think in terms of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily. Which, as a longtime fan of Mega Man, I’m totally okay with. Even if it’s a bit derivative.
Rock’em Sock’em Androids
With all that out of the way, let’s cover what’s most important in a rogue-like – the gameplay. The loop for METALLIC CHILD is deceptively simple. Select a stage, fight your way through 4 levels, beat the big boss, rinse and repeat. Combat is focused on fast-paced combos, grabbing and throwing foes to stun them and beating hordes of angry robots. There are a dozen or so stages, and while most hew closely to this formula, there’s some that mix things up. For example, one stage has you ride a conveyor belt at first, fighting off waves of robots and traps. There are also a couple of on-rail levels, with Rona riding vehicles, zipping around, and blasting everything. But in general, almost every stage is four levels and a boss, interspersed with Keeper mini-bosses.
Combat is both simple yet surprisingly nuanced. I’ll cover the basics here, but there’s a lot more to grasp. Basic attack combos are executed with consecutive presses of the Y button; holding and unleashing Y does Charged attacks, capable of breaking shields; you grab and throw foes with X, which temporarily stuns them; once your Take-Down meter is full, you can also execute foes with X, stealing their Core; A lets you use Skill attacks, tied to the weapon type; L is how you Dodge or Guard; R does a weapon change (which has a cooldown); and once you get MC Skills (Metallic Child Skills) from defeating bosses, you can switch them with ZL and activate them with ZR.
As you fight your way through each area, Rona will acquire some important items. Chips and Disks are vital since they both allow Rona to power up. Disks let her buy items in levels that only last while there. Chips, meanwhile, lead to progressive upgrades for Rona back at the lab. They can do things like boost her base HP, HP regeneration, battery level, and other helpful upgrades. What you cannot do, sadly, is boost Rona’s base ATK or DEF. Those stats are entirely tied to whatever weapons she has equipped. Your best bet is investing in the upgrade that increases Rona’s chances of finding more powerful weapons.
Armed For Battle
At the start of every stage, you can pick 2 out of the possible three weapons to take into battle – Gauntlet, Hammer, and Sword & Shield. Gauntlets are fast and furious but lack defining power; Hammers are mighty but very slow; and the Sword & Shield are somewhere in the middle. The most significant difference between the weapons is Gauntlet and Hammer allow Rona to use a dodge roll, whereas the Sword & Shield provides a guard move. While it’s very helpful for blocking damage, it lacks the flexibility of the dodge roll. Not least of all since Rona cannot move while guarding. I honestly avoided using the Sword & Shield entirely until I started facing foes that bombarded me with projectiles, which eventually forced my hand.
Now I should mention, you can eventually wind up with two of the same type of weapon in stages. You’ll find some in chests or be able to buy others, and some will be rewards for quests. That said, it’s best to have a diversity of options. Because the combat in the game is fast, furious, and occasionally unforgiving. So it’s good to be flexible. You’ll also find times where you can upgrade your weapons, making them more powerful and sometimes providing new abilities. Just keep in mind this always will cost you some hard-earned Disks. That said, it’s best to pay for the higher rank weapons, since those not only have better abilities, but deal more damage than the stuff you begin with.
A ‘Core’ Mechanic
The other hugely important mechanic in METALLIC CHILD are Cores. You’ll get some Cores from defeating foes a particular way, find others exploring, or install others at Corecharger stations. You can have 3 Mini-Cores equipped at a time. These provide helpful temporary bonuses that last until the Cores are depleted of energy. They’ll do things like increase Rona’s grappling ability, heal her when she defeats all foes, and much more. But not all Cores are helpful. You’ll come across some called Bugged Cores. They are basically the opposite of regular cores, and provide unhelpful effects. They might decrease your ATK power, summon more foes, and the like. The worst ones affect your controls, slowing Rona down, glitching out her visual monitor, and worse besides. And the most annoying are Viral Cores. They’re Bugged Cores that last forever, unless you use a Corecharger station to remove them.
You might be wondering why they put unhelpful items in the game, and there’s actually a very good reason. When Rona collects enough Core energy, from grabbing a Mini-Core or gulping down Core Extract, her Core level will increase. Whenever it levels up, you can select to install a Super-Core. These are very helpful, since they last the entirety of your current run. And you’ll need Bug Data to unlock some of the best Super-Cores. You can only install a handful of Super-Cores per stage, but they provide some beneficial abilities. One of the best decreases the wait time between switching weapons, which is very helpful in frenetic battles. And if you ever have 3 Mini-Cores installed at once, you’ll enter Core-Connect mode, which temporarily makes Rona more powerful.
That’s the broad strokes for how Cores work, and overall I liked how they were implemented. There are even some Cores that summon helpful Drones to attack your foes. My biggest issue with Cores is sometimes the RNG gods are cruel, and you’ll get nothing but Bugged and Viral Cores. Sure, that’ll help you eventually, but in the short term, it can lead to Rona’s violent death. And while there’s no penalty for dying, it can be frustrating since every level tends to be long, hard, and quite grindy.
Such Naughty Children…
Though the combat in the game is fast, frenetic, and fun, it still takes a long while to get strong enough to beat your first level. As someone that learned about rogues from The Binding of Isaac, I expect to be done with an entire level in less than a half-hour. So imagine my frustration when it took me 2-3 hours until I was able to beat one boss in METALLIC CHILD. While I did start to reach my stride the longer I played, I think the balance in the game is a bit off. Or at least it’s skewed towards forcing players to grind for resources necessary for marginal upgrades. And while that’s fine for dungeon crawlers, it’s an unpleasant surprise in a fast-paced rogue.
Clothes Make the Droid
Besides all this, you can also head to the Custom Shop to buy new gear for Rona. Most are patterned after the Metallic Children you defeat, and some are references to popular game franchises. Not only is each outfit ridiculously adorable, but they provide small bonuses. Some will enhance the effects of MC Skills. Others provide a specific weapon for battle. They’re all neat and moderately helpful, but sadly they don’t get past my other issues with how grindy the game can be.
A Colorful Chibi Smorgasbord
As I said at the beginning of this review, the style of METALLIC CHILD is what initially drew me to the game. And it did not disappoint. There’s really colorful, varied artwork here that fondly reminds me of Assault Android Cactus. And though there are some color-swapped clones, overall, there’s a nice variety of regular enemies. The Metallic Children themselves are all larger than life and wonderfully detailed. They each have a different personality that somehow matches their fighting style. And though I hate getting Bugged Cores, the visual effects for many are really delightful. It’s almost a nod to a favorite of mine, Eternal Darkness. Sometimes the screen will become pixelated or shrouded in darkness. Other times Rona will get disfigured in hilarious ways. And the music is quite enjoyable as well. Though I don’t love every track, the fast-pumping tunes in the space-station levels is my jam. Aesthetically, this is a very pleasing game.
Some Rough Spots
Now we come to my least favorite part of any review, the complaints. I know these sometimes may come across as nitpicky, but that’s just because I like to thoroughly cover games I review. So here’s the issues that kept METALLIC CHILD from earning a higher score. While I like the gameplay overall, sometimes the mini-boss Keepers can be annoying. Not only are many of them huge, but some of them also attack you with friends. Worse, Keepers aren’t seemingly tied to any one level. Meaning you can come across a monstrously powerful one right out of the gate.
There’s also a key mechanic in the game called Weapon Chains that the expansive tutorial utterly failed to explain properly. I only discovered it thanks to a fellow game journalist who’s also reviewing the game. For Weapon Chains, you basically need to initiate a Skill, then hit R to swap, dealing a lot of damage. With the right Super-Cores installed, you can do this again and again, annihilating most foes. But since this mechanic wasn’t properly explained, and since getting the right setup to properly use it is so random, I found it underwhelming.
Also, though I liked how METALLIC CHILD tried to mix things up with the rail sections, they’re overly long and frustratingly difficult. More frustrating is how occasionally helpful items will spawn right on top of traps, preventing you from picking them up. Or worse, how some stage hazards will just randomly appear without any warning, such as orbital lasers and random black holes. And my biggest pet peeve is how pressing A to open chests often requires precise placement. If you’re not paying enough attention, you’ll easily skip past opening them and instead initiate a Skill. And I hated how the camera placement often led to Rona wandering blinding into enemy range, right before they unloaded a fusillade of projectiles in her face.
All those were bad, but the absolute worst was a couple of glitches I found in the Switch version of METALLIC CHILD. On several occasions, when Rona returned to the lab, ready to buy some gear and upgrades, suddenly the game didn’t display how many Chips I had. The only way I fixed this was by quitting back to the start menu again and again. On another occasion, I was blocking an attack and paused the game. When I returned to it, Rona was inexplicably unable to move for a few seconds.
Bruised But Not Beaten
I really was hoping to score METALLIC CHILD more highly. It’s a fun and challenging game full of heart and creativity. But ultimately, the various poor design choices and outright glitches I encountered kept if from a better score. That said, the game is still well worth the price of admission and has plenty to keep you coming back for more. If you’re a fan of rogue-likes and want something new to spend some time with, I’d check METALLIC CHILD out. Here’s hoping the next project by Studio HG is a true masterpiece!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: CREST; Developer: Studio HG; Players: 1; Released: September 16, 2021; ESRB: Mature 17+ – Blood, Violence; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.