Gal Metal has a lot of really great things going for it, it’s a rhythm action game with some refreshingly novel twists that relies on you as a player learning drum rhythms instead of following on-screen commands – this time you’re performing for real. Some of these could be seen as a little overly ambitious, “gigs” often a confusing rush where you’re never quite sure if you’re playing correctly, yet the parts that do click and connect, like when you meld rhythms you’ve practiced together give a feeling of success above and beyond hitting notes as they fly at you. In Gal Metal you’re rewarded for experimenting and feeling the music, even if that means screwing up.
The narrative is an age old tale of boy meets alien hoard, boy gets transplanted into the body of hapless gal, pair have to cope with new condition and save the planet from goofy octopus aliens via the raw, unfiltered power of Metal and female camaraderie. It’s a kooky world with visuals to match, a doodleish, whimsical style present in the interactive manga panel cutscenes, reading from right to left. Bright colours and simple lines describe scenes with an amicable charm, the toonish 3D renders present during the gigs are also a joy to look at, not that you can, you’re too busy jamming. There’s 3 ways to live out your kawaii drummer dreams, using either the joy-con motion controls, handheld button bashing or touch screen tap options. The latter can only be used in handheld mode and offers a much more precise experience, add some headphones and you’ll be tapping and clicking with ease, whilst the joy-con controls offer a fairly mixed experience. Hitting left, hitting right and then both for cymbals are how you play your way to Earth’s liberation, however the sensitivity can and will hamper your experience at times, yet despite this, when it works it’s easily the most engaging control scheme of the lot.
Before each gig you’re typically allowed to practice, offered select rhythms intended to go well with your next performance, a pattern of waggling joy-cons. You’re shown the tempo and the order and allowed to get a feel for how this rhythm plays out. Finally understanding a select rhythm, getting a bit of muscle memory involved feels uniquely satisfying, especially as the rhythms get harder to learn, evolving from hitting the right drum steadily to fast and slow mixes of both. Rhythms can be steadily unlocked throughout the game’s progression, but many you’re encouraged to find yourself through experimentation during a gig. The UI that flies out at you congratulating you for apparent successes gets confusing, especially when there’s no tempo indicator to guide you back on track, you’ll often find yourself lost in a song desperately trying to get back on track, yet this usually doesn’t matter too much. I never received a grade higher than a C during my play time yet managed pass all gigs with ease, which whilst forgiving eliminates a lot of challenge if you’re not score hunting. Critiques at the end of each stage are often helpful, congratulating parts of what you do with pointers on what you need to improve on alongside a stat growth chart.
Interestingly, there’s a rather heavy RPG stat growth element to the main campaign that focuses on how you spend your time with or without your band mates. You’ve got pink hair-bunned otaku Kia Bansui, obsessed with science and the aliens you’re battling who works on synth, tall and meek Erii Kurofuto on rhythm guitar, daughter of a wealthy conglomorate Mani Kurobarain on bass and on lead guitar, delinquent Shiimi Shindori with a heart of gold. The girls communicate via messenger app in classes where you get to agree or disagree with dialogue options that come up, the girl whose body you’re inhabiting guiding you through the ins and outs of their friendships. You can build affinity with the gals through hanging out or working part-time jobs together, building one of five stats as you do affecting gig gameplay. Morality offers better points for hitting notes on the beat, Creativity nets larger points for using secret rhythms you find in songs, Activity offers more points for combing rhythm combos whilst Guts and Passion reduce the duration and strength of sudden alien attacks as you play. Because that sometimes happens. Because of course it does.
Fighting the Octoids or their enlisted extraterrestrial help the Squdrians, Shrimpians and more, you’ll have to look out for their attacks that can temporarily block a drum from being used or remove sound entirely. Clashing the cymbals at the right time derails their onslaught, so you have to keep an eye out as you play. Cutscenes with their own unique, paperdoll style unlock between the girls as you play, sweet scenes that build their characters in a fun if very light way, breaking up what could’ve been a monotonous process between gigs. Before the next stage you get to allocate time and energy to after school activities where you can build these aforementioned stats. The juggling act is pouring time into your friends, your stats and also finding the time and energy to practice solo or as a group. Solo practice is ideal for learning new rhythms for the next gig whilst group practice is intended to let you make mistakes before the next big show, allowing you to get experimental with the band. You can also practice rhythms freely in the game’s main menu, an ideal addition if you want to sharpen you skills.
With quite a lot on offer, Gal Metal is a refreshing, whimsical and mildly deranged take on the rhythm action genre with a fun cast and script that plays like nothing I’ve encountered before. A bubblegum hued, riff-laden romp that never takes itself too seriously, Gal Metal is a nicely nuanced title that’s all about having a good time. Capturing a youthful, excited spirit, it’s a definite purchase for rhythm-action fans looking for something new.
A fresh spin on rhythm-action games ideal for any fan of light-hearted anime antics.