Gal Metal (Switch) Review
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Marvelous (XSEED)/DMM Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Price: $29.99 for base downloadable version, $39.99 physical with DLC included
Rhythm and music games typically use the memorization of an entire song's worth of information in order to obtain a perfect score. Whether it's touchscreen like Elite Beat Agents, jamming out with Guitar Hero plastic instruments, or tapping buttons to the beat like Parappa the Rapper, players would have to figure out exactly what the developers wanted done and repeat it back. Gal Metal attempts gameplay aspects of all three while giving you the freedom to play what you feel is right. Instead of having a set track to play, Gal Metal throws you into a song and tasks you with feeling the music and playing what is right without having a single prompt on the screen.
While Gal Metal presents as a rhythm game, the main storyline has several different sections. It usually plays out with a warning from aliens of an upcoming attack, who are trying to destroy the power of metal. Rather than simply vaporize everyone, they instead warn a high school all-girl metal band who have a couple of days to prepare for the invasion. At school, they chit-chat via text message about things that may or may not be about the aliens, then spend their after-school time hanging out or working around town. Each stop uses the stamina available for the evening, and also will alter the stats they have to support them during performances. Hanging out with other band mates slowly increases the friendship bonds you have which will unlock little story bits. Main story bits at the front and back end of the stages play out through manga-style animated cutscenes.
The main tale of Gal Metal starts out awkwardly, as a boy and girl are abducted by the aliens, tested on, and for unknown reasons merged into one. Basically, the guy is in control of the girl's body while she can still feel and telepathically speak with him. With the boy in control of the body, the girl tries to give tips and get the boy to feel the music as he/she jams out with the rest of her friends. I'm really not sure why this part is needed: other than a couple few slapstick scenes in the manga sections it could have all been done with internal dialogue bits in the girl's mind herself.
Gal Metal gives you plenty of options on how to play. The big push is for the motion controls. One "drum stick" is for the snare whilst the other runs the kick bass pedal. Swinging both simultaneously hits a crash cymbal. If motion controls aren't your thing you can opt for basic button controls. In handheld mode you also have the option for a full drum kit transparency to be on the screen which opens up a lot more variety. You have multiple snares, cymbals, and such, and the tactile feeling of slamming your thumbs on the pad makes for the most fun way to play the game. I wish the developers had opted to integrate some sort of drum kit USB peripheral accessibility or better yet an extra Joy Con for the motion controls. A Joy Con rubber banded around your shoe (or perhaps integrated into the Labo Vehicle Kit's gas pedal) would have made a world of realism difference with two sticks going to town on snare or crash depending on where you were holding the remote. Gal Metal's motion control is solely "up and down" separately or together.
Rhythm games have waned down a bit this generation thanks to the dreaded input lag. Modern televisions can't completely quash the bug where the video and audio on screen don't sync up perfectly. This is why most rhythm games have some sort of calibration feature. They also adapt by having less audio reaction when you hit individual beats (think how Dance Dance Revolution doesn't have taps every time your foot lands). Unfortunately watching the screen in TV mode shows physical circles for your hit marks with a drum hit noise that seems delayed on top of the separate music coming from the rest of your band, who plow on regardless of how well you are doing. One time while I was playing a calibration screen popped up that I didn't even ask for, never to be seen again. I've looked in all the option menus and found nothing. Handheld it works like a dream, but it's sad that Gal Metal can't give the quality of life features inherent in most rhythm games to make the big screen experience worth it. The review documents discuss the in-game calibration menu but it is not immediately visible despite several trips tot he options menus. They even suggest using external speakers plugged into the unit's audio jack. It seems like a lot of workaround to get this game to work on an HDTV, especially when there are games that simply state "only work in handheld mode." That's a rough stigma, but Gal Metal needs to make it's calibration options clearer because right now handheld is nearly the best way to play unless your TV has an amazing Game Mode.
Playing Gal Metal doesn't land in the usual sweet spot for someone used to rhythm games with it's freeform styling. The game encourages you to use the beats you find as best you can in the song instead of handholding for a perfect run. It makes for some amazingly entertaining play but has a rough crossroad of asking you to be free but also rely on technique. For example, as a musician I may find the beat and knock out one of the requested strings of hits. Unfortunately, I started it on beat 3 of a 4/4 measure. It sounds fine, given the "free jam" style of the band's metal music, but it doesn't count on the score multiplier because it didn't happen in an entire measure of music. If you are unfamiliar with the song (and let's face it they aren't playing Top Ten hits here, they sound more like metal versions of classical music) you might end up pausing your play to find the beat again, and the song ends all too quickly. Once you get your brain wrapped around the music and understand the drum patterns you are going to have a blast, but the extra school chat, cell phone text messages, storyboards, and hanging around town might throw you off of your groove before the concert starts. You have to get to a song in story mode before it's available in free play so you really have to go into Gal Metal feeling like you're in a "visual novel" game with rhythm elements rather than hoping to pop it in and rock out on drums.
If you are a fan of Japanese culture and humor, you'll get a kick out of the lengthy slice-of-life drama. Otherwise, it feels pointless and in the way of getting your rock on. Gal Metal crosses the visual novel with the rhythm genre for a unique take that hopefully won't alienate fans of either. It's a blast to go in and rock out, though gamers striving for the "perfect run" may get frustrated at the lack of handholding. The base game is available as a digital download for $29.99 and the packaged "World Tour" edition adds DLC which includes five extra characters with their own stories and songs (unavailable at time of review) for $39.99. If you're looking for a good time to rock out and have fun, Gal Metal is a great place to start. Just be prepared to have fun and aim for a high score, not perfection.
-Multiple ways to play: Motion control, direct button input, or a full drum kit in touchscreen mode
-Freeform independent play lets you put together the ideal string of combos you want to make outside of developer decisions
-Bizarre but funny storyline
-Freeform may be too much for people looking for a traditional rhythm experience
-Very lengthy cutscenes between songs may deter people expecting a music-based game
-The whole "man in a woman's body" subplot is pointlessly tacked on for some generic humor bits when the story could have centered around the girls' independence and the Power of Metal
Special thanks to Marvelous/XSEED/DMM Games for providing a downloadable copy of the base game for review!