Gal Metal – Elite Beat Teenagers
In 2018, it seemed like the ‘Rhythm Game With A Story’ genre was long dead. Curse of the Necrodancer failed to resurrect it, but perhaps Gal Metal will have more success in bringing gamers back to the likes of Parappa The Rapper, Um Jammer Lammy and Elite Beat Agents – all while eschewing the rigidity of their play. Developed by DMM Games, Gal Metal is a mish-mash of ideas and genres that somehow come together to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
Part sci-fi/slice of life manga/rhythm game, Gal Metal follows the exploits of the Kichijoji Metal Girls, an all-female High School band challenged to defend the Earth from a series of attacks by the Octoids, alien invaders with a grudge against humanity. Our Crime? Launching the Voyager Golden Record, the music of which has plagued the hearing of extra-terrestrial beings for decades. The narrative kicks off when Rinko Hoshino, drummer for the KMG, is abducted by the Octoids and body swapped with a boy. Perhaps this is a reference to Shinkai Makoto’s lovely 2017 film Your Name, but more likely it’s to explain away why Rinko is suddenly as useless as a screen door on a submarine when it comes to drumming.
While the story in Gal Metal, unlike a certain Get-Up Kids album, is nothing to write home about, its presentation is quite enjoyable and ranges from cardboard cut-out cutscenes to a ‘motion manga’ which jumps and pans between panels. There’re even some extremely light RPG elements thrown in a la Persona, where Rinko is able to spend her time building relationships with her bandmates to unlock extra story scenes as well as increase a set of five parameters which provide extra bonuses when playing songs with more accuracy or creativity. Over the course of the campaign, players take Rinko and her band through 13 metal interpretations of classical pieces such as ‘Ode to Joy’. This has not only kicked licensing fees to the curb for the developers but also allows players to have much more freedom of expression and not require them to stick to a particular pattern or set of notes – Gal Metal producer Tak Fujii has said as much in interviews. If you’re like me, however, you’re going to spend most of your time in the Practice mode to work on upcoming songs because, during a performance, there are exactly zero on-screen guides as to what to do. What’s that? A rhythm game with no descending notes? Before you can shout MURI! let me explain.
Playing Gal Metal is straightforward enough – there’s an Orange Note (kick) and a Blue Note (snare). When using motion controls, the Right Joycon acts as the kick while the Left Joycon acts as the snare, keeping things simple but extremely enjoyable. This is easily the best way to start off with the game as well as demo it to friends, but it comes with a catch – you need to stick to Handheld mode. Unless your TV has a game mode option, running Gal Metal on a Docked Switch is an awful experience as lag introduced between the Switch Dock and the TV makes it very hard to pull off the rhythms properly. Compounding the issue is the lack of a lag adjustment option in-game, although I can see this being something that a patch could address in the future.
Things get more interesting when ditching the Joycons for buttons, as each Joycon maps to a different half of the drum kit. Rhythms are learned as a series of Blue and Orange notes (made easier if you made the right decision and bought the Neon Joycon version of the Switch as I did) ranging from slow beats to furious speed metal fills. However, unlike motion controls which lock these notes to a kick and snare only, the button control option allows for use of toms, crashes and hi-hats – Gal Metal doesn’t care which button you press, as long as it comes from the correctly coloured Joycon, which allows for a lot more creativity on the players part and incidentally is the best way to push scores higher. This method of play can also be done on the touchscreen, with both input methods no doubt providing the majority of Gal Metal high scores posted online.
If you can’t already tell from the previous few paragraphs, Gal Metal isn’t a game for all rhythm game fans, let alone gamers in general. It does a lot of interesting things in terms of systems and I can’t help but admire the level of depth it offers to those willing to learn and practice. This is a game that isn’t going to hit the mark for many – however, if it hits for you, it’s going to hit hard.
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen del Prados attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then Stephen has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the recently retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever