Review: Metal Unit
By: Lucius Locke
Developer: Jellysnow Limited
Publisher: Neowiz Games
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
A GIRL IN A SUIT! - Introduction
Most video games are given a name that immediately catches your attention. Whenever I see Rune Factory or Trials of Mana on store shelves, I’m intrigued and crave more information. Toss in a vibrant, artistic cover art, and there’s a sure-fire way to get noticed. So when everyone’s favourite form of entertainment sports a generic title with bland cover art, our default inclination is to assume it’s shovelware. That was basically my thought process when I saw this game. I mean, the icon is just a slightly silhouetted picture of the protagonist wearing a - you guessed it - the game's namesake. Metal Unit was previously on PC and sits firmly as a rogue-like. That’s right, the oversaturated market of Groundhog Day simulators gets yet another entry. I’m a bit burnt out by the genre, so I wasn't overly thrilled to jump in. That is until the visuals reinvigorated and punched me in the face. The beautiful pixel art felt nostalgic. By the end of my session, five choice words popped into my head - holy crap, don’t ever assume.
HUMANITY’S IN TROUBLE! - Story Synopsis
Congratulations, Unit 11, you’ve graduated and have been accepted into the Steel Brigade. It’s now your duty to continue the fight against an alien race known as the Garous. Your mission is to find and defeat Eve - the Queen of these creatures. There’s no option to refuse - this is your purpose. You’ll traverse through a handful of locations, combating slugs and machinery of various types. With the help of your metal suit - codenamed Falcon - you’ll wield various kinds of weapons to aid in your adventure. As you continue blasting your way forward, however, heartache, sacrifice, and truth await. As progress is achieved, things begin to unfurl, and you quickly realize nothing is as it seems. There’s been a betrayal in the midst of all this war, and you are to locate and eliminate. This isn’t up for discussion, Joanna. We expect results, now go.
MISSING IMPACT!! - Writing
Because of my preconception that this would be an absolute dud, I fully expected an incoherent story. That, however, proved foolish of me because, all in all, it isn’t half bad. It, at least, makes sense, but there’s still something kind of important missing. You see, there’s a glaring unwillingness to flesh out most characters. It, instead, maintains a one-dimensional cast with sporadic glimpses of hope. For example, the sprinklings of banter between both Joanna and her suit AI was a highlight. It added some much-needed personality while also lending itself to creating genuine character development. We get to witness Falcon go from refusing to divulge any information to being receptive. Sure, literacy is but a minor detail in a gameplay-centric title such as this, but it also goes far in heightening my experience.
It’s frustrating to see the story edging so close to being tangible, especially because the building blocks are here. We’re, instead, given a dangling carrot as we run this treadmill, hoping for it to reach that peak, only for it not to. To its credit, Metal Unit does try to fill in some blanks. Each level has paper sheets hidden throughout that contribute to an in-game museum. Once found, these depict the events that lead to the current conflict. I’ve never been a fan of this type of storytelling because it’s separate from the game proper. Not only that, but a lot of what’s relegated here could, realistically, have been used to bolster the core narrative. By chucking it in, it would solve my biggest gripe: the plot lacked heft. After all, is said though, I reckon the overall tale is satisfactory at best - and I don’t mean that negatively. It’s serviceable, and I appreciate that logic was put into the infinite life cycles. It made sense within the universe and grounded the rogue-like elements.
A REPEATING CYCLE! - Gameplay
If you look up “addictive” in the dictionary, you’d see Metal Unit. Few games are able to grab me with their claws and hold me tightly as it did. In fact, I’d go to bed excited to jump back in the next morning. Meanwhile, it already kept me up until 2 am. This game is - and this is underselling it - so much fun. While simplistic, the gameplay loop should be applauded. I especially loved the mechanics here. First and foremost, items are broken into different categories of rarity. For Diablo 3 fans, this will be familiar. White means common, blue is rare, purple is epic, and orange is legendary. The majority of these are found in chests scattered around the maps. However, Legendaries are seldom found in the wild, meaning there’s another method to get these - enter synthesizing.
There are select items with recipes, so I hope you haven’t pissed off Lady Luck. RNG plays a major role in determining what a combination grants. Luckily, there are ways to increase the likelihood of manufacturing higher qualities, though it does have a cap of 30%. Even then, there were many times I rolled many golds in a row. On the flip side, it, at times, went into a succession of flops, but it never felt like a deterrent. Given the ease of finding new armaments, it never got tedious. It’s actually the contrary, as that rush of acquiring something new was exhilarating. As already mentioned, there are recipes that create some pretty nifty weapons, like a Master Sword - no, not that one. Once crafted, it has the special ability to shoot a wave of projectiles with every swing. Keep in mind that some of these are only obtainable through this method, but it’s worth it. They not only boost the amount of destruction but also the murder, so hell yeah, I spent a lot of time tinkering with this feature.
Second, there are three individual skill trees to commit to. Unlike those in RPGs, however, these don’t allow you to customize character build. Think of it more as a means to elevate skills Joanna already possesses. For example, boosting her movement speed or adding a double jump. There’s plenty of choices to play around with, and each investment positively influences the game. For those worried that this may undermine the difficulty, it sort of does, but there are modes to rectify that. Suddenly, each cycle has a special modifier that adds a certain condition to a run. One of these consists of going through a level as an enemy continuously chases. It essentially forces you to speed run. Then there’s one that continuously changes your equipment. This was, by far, my favourite since it forced me to have to constantly adapt. If that’s not enough, it’s possible to activate it all at once, making masochists everywhere smile. I tried doing this before writing, and yeah, I died more than a few times.
HIT THOSE KEYS! - Sound Design
Once I completed Metal Unit, my ears were blessed with a blissful piano rendition. My eardrums smiled as the first hint of emotion graced them. Then I’d select New Game+, and that all came crashing down. This is, for better or worse, the exact same situation as the story. There are glimmers of greatness, but as a whole, the music comes across as ordinary fare. That’s not to say that it’s awful, but it doesn’t stand out. There’s a chill vibe to each area you explore. Although, it’s a strange choice when factoring in the fast-paced killing on-screen. I expected blood-bumping instrumentals and not blood-settling ones. I wanted to feel energized, but I was indifferent. The sound effects, however, do pack a punch. Sure, the bass could have been amped up to add that extra bit of oomph, but at the end of the day, it’s, well, it’s serviceable. The talent is here if that piano track is any indication. Yet, for whatever reason, it’s never realized. You know, it’s oddly poetic given that it’s a recurring theme throughout.
AND THE METALLIC VERDICT IS...
Metal Unit is bloody fantastic and fun as hell. I was quickly engulfed in obsession as I’d aim for every piece of equipment. The end-game challenges add a good bit of difficulty, and I’d certainly encourage looking into these. Not only do you unlock special weapons exclusive to this method, but there are two doors still tightly closed that need opening. I’m not saying this is how it’s done, but it might be. The controls are smooth, and as you’d expect, action is rapid and brisk. I was engaged the entire time. There are slight bullet hell elements mixed in, too, for fans of those. Despite the story only being a few hours, my completion time was twenty. Sure, the overall narrative is a classic case of so close and yet, so far away, but the fun factor carries Metal Unit to greatness. And if you find the challenges too difficult, there are accessibility options such as infinite ammo and jumps.
I easily recommend this to fans of the side-scroller rogue-like genre. Hell, there are also some Sailor Moon references here. Intentional or not, that combined with the sheer quality gets this game an 8. So, when is the sequel coming out?
Thanks to Team Critical Hit for providing the review key for Metal Unit for the purposes of this review.