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Gal Metal: a rhythm game that misses too many beats

Ash Gomez reviews Gal Metal, a game that turns the Nintendo Switch’s joy-cons into drumsticks.

Image courtesy of Marvelous USA Inc.

Publisher: Marvelous USA Inc.

Developer: DMM Games

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Release date: 2 November, 2018

Gal Metal takes what you know about rhythm games from titles like Guitar Hero and Rockband, and makes you forget all of it. It’s a charming game oozing with potential, but at times it seems to be little more than that.

Rather than forcing the player to hit the beats that the game wants, it instead introduces the budding drummer to a series of rhythms and encourages you to discover what sounds best.

The game puts the Nintendo Switch’s endless gaming possibilities to good use by turning joy-cons into drumsticks. It offers a forgiving system of jamming along to songs, with your sticks at the ready. Rather than forcing the player to hit the beats that the game wants, it instead introduces the budding drummer to a series of rhythms and encourages you to discover what sounds best.

The story behind Gal Metal is that two young people are abducted by aliens, who have become frustrated with the metal music they hear from Earth. They send the two, a boy and a girl, back to Earth as one to do their bidding. This results in the boy having control over the girl’s body, with her voice in the back of his mind assisting him in acting natural. This odd plot point appears to be the game’s way of establishing a tutorial through the boy learning how to drum in the girl’s band. It seems overly complicated, especially because aliens are in the mix. Surely the aliens could have sent the girl back to Earth having forgotten how to play the drums?

Posing as a young female student, the main character attends school and attempts to keep this secret. Oddly enough, the impending threat of aliens is readily revealed to all the minor characters in the story, but still the protagonist does not admit to the body-switching incident. Instead, they practice drumming in order to blend in with the girl’s band, which has taken it upon themselves to force the aliens away with their metal music.

The story is told using three unique art styles. The main points are delivered in a charming comic book style. Conversations between the bandmates are revealed in a chat conversation, to which the main character can deliver small responses and send stickers. And finally, there is a system in place for “levelling up” between performances. The main character chooses how to spend their free time before the show, by doing activities such as working, going to school, or shopping. All of these activities offer small benefits that can help during a performance. This levelling up system is displayed in a cartoonish overview of the city, with characters bouncing from one location to the next.

All three of the art styles are interesting, but these separate game elements make for an overwhelming play experience. The comic book style I found to be the most straightforward, although it did drag on at times. I was initially enamoured by the text conversations, until I realized just how many messages I was expected to read. This quickly became a point of the game that I immediately skipped, because my minor chat choices had no effect on the overall story.

It is unfortunate that the game spends so much time building up its story, because the drumming is without a doubt the most interesting part

The levelling up system was, in a word, hectic. During the first introduction of this system, the screen became overloaded with text attempting to explain every single element at play. Together, these sections of the game caused me to become incredibly frustrated, because I just wanted to play some drums.

It is unfortunate that the game spends so much time building up its story, because the drumming is without a doubt the most interesting part. The core rhythm mechanic, while buggy at times, is very unique. Gal Metal allows you to feel like you truly are part of a band, because you actually have a choice in how you play. However, the joy-cons often hit just after the intended beat, which can become frustrating quickly. Furthermore, while the idea of freedom in a rhythm game is interesting, it became clear that drums are the wrong instrument to introduce this with.

Drums are meant to establish a beat, and assist the rest of the band in playing around this rhythm. To switch the roles and instead attempt to drum around the rest of the instruments is incredibly difficult. I often felt myself itching to play my band mates’ instruments, knowing that the potential is much greater in those.

It feels as though three separate teams worked on the story for Gal Metal, and it resulted in this hodgepodge of a game. This is unfortunate because each of these segments are actually incredibly promising, but together they are frustrating. The actual drumming is the best part of the game, but it needs a lot of work in order to be truly playable.

In a nutshell: The story elements are cute, but too drawn out to make the game feel fun as a whole. The rhythm mechanic is interesting and full of promise, but is ultimately unsatisfactory.