Review: Gal Metal (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewed by Scarlet Bell, posted Nov 2, 2018
Nov 2, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): October 30, 2018
  • Release Date (EU): November 2, 2018
  • Publisher: Marvelous USA Inc.
  • Developer: DMM Games
  • Genres: Rhythm
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Launching alongside the drumming Goliath Taiko, does Gal Metal's free-form style do enough to set it apart from the crowd?
Scarlet Bell

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I've always held rhythm games in a particularly fond light. Where Project DIVA hooks me on its frantic sensory overloading, and Taiko grips me on its easy to pick up and satisfying smashing of a drum, Gal Metal advertises itself as something new. Discarding the idea of set routines and on-screen prompts, you're tasked with jamming without limitation, but is this a step forwards for the genre, or a step too far?

Aliens!?

This is the kind of game I love summarising the story for. You have your run of the mill high school boy on his way home, when he's abruptly abducted by a race of talking octopi called Octoids. He and another rather generic-looking high school girl named Rinko are told their species are to blame for wiping out the Octoid civilisation because of a space probe sending out the lethal sound of metal. Deciding Earth only needs one emissary, the boy and Rinko get merged into one, and chaotic fun ensues as they're tasked with defending the planet with the power of metal. With the boy controlling Rinko's body, but her having the knowledge and passion for metal, as well as knowing her own daily routine, they're forced to work together with the Rinko's band to fight off the invasions.

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It is so absurd in the most fantastic way. The manga-style used to present story scenes fits the tone beautifully, continually managing to entertain and amuse me as the plot develops. It has a fun sense of progression and does well in escalating as you stop attempt after attempt to take over the planet. Mixed into these cartoony segments are idle conversations in class through phone messages, as well as training your band for the upcoming battle. The messages are fun, giving you choices of replies each leading down different conversation paths. At the end, you often find yourself unlocking a small event with one or more of your bandmates, giving them a little more screen time.

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Training in Gal Metal sees you divide your free time across work, play, miscellaneous activities, as well as band practice to learn new combinations. Feeling a little like a dating sim in its stat management, you have the freedom this game holds at its epicentre to develop as you see fit. If you prefer a certain style of drum combo, you can put effort into that stat for bonus points. As well as this, you get events from chapter to chapter allowing you to further get to know the cast. It all adds up to create an incredibly personal experience, one that feels as though it could be played three times over whilst still maintaining a degree of freshness. My only real criticism on this front is how short it is. Putting replayability of the chapters aside, there are only 13 to work through. Whether this will be an issue for you will come down to whether music variety is a killer. Within the 13 songs, you have a huge range, each completely unique to the way you choose to drum to them. That being said, no matter how varied they are, there are only 13. In my time playing, I thoroughly came to enjoy each one, but it really makes me question whether the DLC is a required purchase to get the fullest experience. With five new chapters, band members, and songs, it feels like a significant amount to leave out, with the fact of it being launch day DLC (and the DLC itself being a suspiciously small 4 MB download) rubbing salt in the wound. Physical buyers do get it bundled with the game however, so perhaps there is incentive to invest there. Regardless, as I don't have the DLC myself, I'm unable to comment any further on it.

Drummin' Free

As its unique contribution to the genre, Gal Metal throws away all notion of set routine, instead leaving it to you as the player to figure out. The idea of it seemed crazy to me, I honestly couldn't picture it in any way that wasn't an unenjoyable mess, but here I am hours later completely invested. In the free time before battling aliens, the game gives you the chance to look at and learn the timing of different drum combinations, to then be mixed together in any way you see fit. The scoring system itself isn't discussed in great detail during gameplay, something I feel to be a curious choice. Instead of learning how to be the best out of the gate, you instead find yourself observing the score you get, and the hints given at the end of each song. Through these, you have a sense of gradual improvement and natural progression. I'm not sure whether I'm entirely on board with this, but I can't deny the satisfaction that comes from getting your first million point bonus and not really knowing why it happened. If you prefer a more technical approach, there are undoubtedly guides floating around online to get you started at a rapid pace. While I would have liked a little more information, I feel a lot of that comes from my own impatience. If you're willing to give the game some time, you'll figure it out one step at a time.

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The drumming itself is hard to describe. You wave the Joy Con and you hit either the red or blue drum, and the timing and choice of drum hit will affect which combos are used. Considering the reliance of motion controls for the recommended style of play, I found myself surprised at how good it feels. Each strike feels defined with even the fastest combinations giving you enough time to return to neutral before striking again. The balancing that went into this control scheme honestly amazes me. You can also play using the buttons, or the system's touch screen in handheld mode, but this is one of the rare gems where motion controls really take it to another level. If you happen to be an actual drummer, the game also advertises a drum mode where the feel of hitting the drum is replicated. Being musically challenged, it's not something I really adjusted well to, sticking with noodle mode for the duration of my play sessions, but it's a great option to have nonetheless.

Heavy Metal, Heavy Fun

As a fan of Project DIVA and Taiko, Gal Metal seemed like a foreign experience, and to some extent, that's exactly what it is. Finding itself detached from its genre whilst pushing it to an extreme I haven't personally seen before, it's something I can see myself returning to when I want something different. While it has less content than I would have liked, it redeems itself in the sheer amount of time that can be put into making the game what you want it to be. A remarkably open-ended experience, it's a game I can recommend to anybody wanting to drum on their own terms, or anybody who just wants a frantic arm workout with motion controls.

Verdict
Pros
+ Free-form drumming for each of the game's tracks
+ Surprisingly good motion controls
+ Very easy to pick up and play
+ Fantastic manga-esque style
Cons
- Only 13 songs
- Not much information given for people wanting to dive in quickly
8 Presentation
With an art style ripped straight out of Japan, the manga-esque design suits the humour and charming nature of the game perfectly.
8 Gameplay
You shake a Joy Con, that's it, and yet it's so so much more. You feel the impact, the rhythm, you feel power behind each swing, entrancing and enthralling, until you realise the song has already ended. It's a rhythm game like no other I have played, and I hope more can adopt this free-form gameplay style so well.
7 Lasting Appeal
This is a game that'll keep you occupied for as long as you want it to. Incredibly easy to pick up, with the bar of mastery really set as high as you want it to be, it's easy to become engrossed. Though somewhat held back by the amount of songs, it's still a game I'll be coming back to for weeks.
7.8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Gal Metal is a game that is what you make of it. If you want a tall string of technical combinations, this is a game for you. If you want a satisfying and consistent beat through some brilliant metal beats, this is still a game for you. The flexibility and personal nature of the experience feels entirely unique, let down only by the limited list of 13 tracks. Pick this up if you're a fan of metal, of drumming, or of violently swinging a Joy Con; you won't regret it.


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