It’s 7am in the morning, I’m waiting on a flight out of Paris and my latest game is definitely going to get the rest of my fellow fliers snaring. Just a few days ago, Marvelous, Xseed, and DMM.com unleashed Gal Metal, a free from rhythm title, on Nintendo Switch. Now, I take to the drums to find out why even aliens cannot kill the metal!
Gal Metal comes from the minds of DMM.com’s own publishing arm and it is a distinctly Japanese affair. This rhythm adventure is less Taiko no Tatsujin and a bit more its own flavor of musical mayhem. Based around a group of high school students who become the unwitting defenders of planet earth, it teleports you into the shoes of the school’s metal society leader and ace drummer. What unfolds from here is a mix of unconventional rhythm games, Persona style slice of life activities, and a solid dose of metal.
Despite coming out of DMM Games, a domestic Japanese company with a reasonable history with mobile games, Gal Metal has a distinct indie aesthetic. This is the very first console game to come out of the eastern company’s games arm and has an undeniably anarchic slant to it. While the soundtrack is decidedly aggressive, the visual style is equally nonconformist. Looking like the result of a high school manga meeting, the opening 2D comic strip is a boisterous and unpolished adaptation of high school life. This might sound like a criticism, but as this style continues throughout the game’s variety of modes and onto the 3D stage performances, it becomes somewhat charming.
Stage shows are the headline act in Gal Metal and an opportunity to fend off alien attackers. Where I’d traditionally expect to see badly etched mecha trashing across a cityscape, metal becomes the weapon of choice. It is also an opportunity to check out DMM’s alternative approach to rhythm gaming. Games like Guitar Hero, Taiko no Tatsujin, and the Persona Dancing series all require players to follow a prescribed approach to gameplay but Gal Metal is a different arrangement altogether. Gal Metal takes a free-form approach to rhythm. Primarily making use of the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, Gal Metal challenges players to take to the stage and play the drums without the supervision of a pro forma track script. There are no hints, no targets, and no timing tips. Gal Metal is not about shooting for a target. It is all about structure and flow.
Individuals songs are split up into obvious sections that follow the chorus, verse, and bridge structures of most 3 or 4-minute mash-ups. These sections are clearly indicated as a song plays out, and Gal Metal’s performances provide points based on how accurate and original the player’s free-form performance is. Break out a series of beats that are well timed and properly structured and you will crash through the points barriers. Flail aimlessly or fail to change your 4 beat function and you will struggle to break it big in this game. It is a nice twist that will probably succeed in both enthralling and alienating players. Traditional rhythm games are very prescriptive and thinking outside this box requires a slightly different mindset. Even for somebody who has played drums for years, snapping my hickory sticks for a pair of Joy-Con controllers is a strange request.
Wielding both left and right Joy-Con controllers, players can activate various parts of their percussive arsenal by striking a downwards motion. It is exactly how you would expect to use the Switch controllers for this game and is a very mixed experience. Thrashing around to the game’s soundtrack is fantastic fun. The soundtrack contains a solid range of tracks that could easily go all the way up to eleven, with Blood Pact: Zero In Phobia being the stage where everything starts really coming together.
The Joy-Con controllers are far from accurate and this will frustrate at times. Errant beats skip in and the odd rattle can completely throw a winning streak. Joy-Con drumming is generally inaccurate and hardly exclusive to Gal Metal, yet it does not ruin the pleasure of getting into the groove with this challenge. The number of drums available to hit is also somewhat limited when wedding the Joy-Cons. Still, with practice, it is still more than enough to break through the game’s 1 and 3 million tier barriers. Players looking to hit the real big time and start making it through more difficult challenges are able to switch to a more versatile controller style, using either fixed button controls and touchscreen input. Each play style provides a very different experience, with these alternatives proving to be far more diverse but far less cathartic.
That’s not to say that you can’t blaze through the most difficult alien onslaughts with the Joy-Cons. Like real life, spending enough time in practice and free play will vastly improve your live performance. Given enough time, Gal Metal’s tutorials introduce practice paradiddles and rhythms to fill any song full of controlled chaos. It’s something that takes a little time to draw together but after three or four live performances things really do make sense.
New breakbeats are not the only way to rack up bigger numbers in Gal Metal. Outside of the obvious onstage antics, your own high school metal society have their own lives and Gal Metal makes use of these extra circular activities to crank up your character skillset. Taking clear inspiration from games like Persona, Gal metal encourages potential drummers to interact with their band outside of school time. Activities scattered across a local town map range from part-time work to solo practice. It is up to the game’s protagonist to manage these events with the time left in each day. Each activity results in some kind of modified stat bonus. Each of Morality, Guts, Passion, Activity, and Kvit have an impact on the way that live performances are scored and provide a range of bonuses.
Again, this slice of life section is a mixed bag. It appears to have a definite impact on the game’s live scoring system yet still feels a little underdeveloped. After playing any Persona installment, stepping into another slice of lifestyle game is always going to feel underwhelming. In this, however, the game’s extracurricular events didn’t really even reveal much about the characters, unlike Gal Metal’s comic book interludes.
Gal Metal is an all-around mixed experience. DMM Games have aimed to create something unique for their first console outing and played a definite rim shot. It is a loud and distinct noise that cuts through the prescribed pop outings of Hatsune Miku, yet it feels like they may have aimed for the stars with this tale of alien invasion. Gal Metal might be a unique game but it feels underdeveloped in parts and manages to be equal parts fun and frustrating.
It is hard to ignore the impression that Gal Metal makes when you get on stage and into a groove. If you are sick and tired just dancing to the same old beat then get Gal Metal and defend the planet from pop, and aliens. Gal Metal is available now on the Nintendo eShop and in retail outlets as a World Tour edition.